Updated: 9 January 2014
My family seems to have a general policy of “why let the truth get in the way of a good story”. I don’t think we’re the only ones as many episodes of “Who Do You Think You Are?” are based on debunking family myths.
My 4x g-grandfather John Hewitt is a point in question. There are some great stories about him. Finding the evidence to back up the stories is not so easy.
The Known Facts
John Hewitt married Sophia Ann Hughes on 20 Oct 1791 in St Anne Soho, Westminster, London, England. They were married by Licence and Sophia’s sister Ann and father/brother William were witnesses. There is no sign of his family. At the time of their marriage, John was living in the parish of St Anne Soho and Sophia was living in Clapham.
Sophia was the daughter of William Hughes (c1737 – 1825) of Froxfield, Wiltshire and Anne Jenkins (1740 – 1798) of London. She was born on 19 Jan 1771 in the parish of St Nicholas Acons, London. William was a successful property speculator and landlord.
John and Sophia had the following children:
- WILLIAM HUGHES HEWITT HUGHES (MP)was born on 02 Sep 1792 in Saint Anne Soho, Westminster, London. He died on 10 Oct 1874 in Ilkley Wells House, Yorkshire, England. He married MARIA FIELD on 23 Aug 1813 in St Saviour, Southwark, London, daughter of Richard Valentine Field and Sarah Ellerton.
- FREDERICK HEWITT was born on 19 Aug 1793 in Saint Anne Soho, Westminster, London. He died on 13 Sep 1883 in Wandsworth, Surrey. He married ELIZABETH TURNER (c 1800 – 1874) on 22 Mar 1821 in Holy Trinity Church, Clapham, Surrey.
- SOPHIA ANNE HUGHES HEWITT was born on 24 Aug 1795 in Saint Anne Soho, Westminster, London. She died in 1873. She married HENRY FIELD (1793 – 1838) on 11 Aug 1824 in Holy Trinity Church, Clapham, Surrey, son of Richard Valentine Field and Sarah Ellerton (and brother to her brother’s wife).
- AUGUSTUS HEWITT was born on 08 Sep 1797 in Saint Anne Soho, Westminster, London, England. He died about Dec 1885 in Bath, England. He married (1) CHARLOTTE KEY (1808 – ?) on 03 Sep 1830 in St Matthew-Brixton, Surrey, England, daughter of John Key and Charlotte Green. He married (2) HARRIET ELIZABETH WHATTON (1826 – 1901) about Jun 1876 in Marylebone, Middlesex, England, daughter of William Robert Whatton and Harriet Sophia Seddon.
- CAROLINE HEWITT was born on 09 Nov 1801 in Saint Anne Soho, Westminster, London. She married NATHANIAL DANDO (1789 – 1867) on 28 Nov 1822 in Holy Trinity Church, Clapham, Surrey.
- THOMAS HEWITT was born on 17 Jan 1804 in Saint Anne Soho, Westminster, London. He died in 1884. He married PHILADELPHIA EDWARDS (c.1816 – 1892).
- CONSTANTIA HEWITT was born on 09 Sep 1805 in Saint Anne Soho, Westminster, London. She died between Jan-Mar 1891 in Brighton.
- SABINA HEWITT was born on 09 Aug 1808 in Saint Anne Soho, Westminster, London. She died between Jan-Mar 1896 in Barton Regis, Gloucestershire, England.
- EMMA HEWITT was born on 21 Apr 1810 in Holy Trinity, Clapham, Surrey. She died after 1891. She married JAMES WEBBER (c.1801 – bef 1891) on 11 Dec 1830 in Holy Trinity Church, Clapham, Surrey.
John was buried on 12 December 1820 at the Holy Trinity Church in Clapham. His age is listed as 73 (born around 1747), so there was only 24 years difference between him and his wife! But I have no idea exactly when or where he was born.
Sophia Anne was buried on 2 June 1821, also at the Holy Trinity Church in Clapham.
The best summation of what’s known about John Hewitt comes in a letter between some of my Field cousins in 1897:
Henry Claylands Field to William Hughes Field, 28th Feb 1897
Ann (my Grandmother) became the wife of a wealthy stockbroker and money lender, in either Greek St. or Frith St.., Soho Square London. I am uncertain now as to the name of the street, but it lead out of Soho Square, towards Seven Dials, on the east of Crosse and Blackwell’s pickling and preserving works, and the house was a ______ one, on the right hand side after passing the first cross street. I could point it out now if it still exists, and I was on the spot, as it was my mother’s birthplace. I do not recollect the money lenders name, if indeed I ever knew it, but fancy it may have been Isaacs, as a Mr Harrison Isaacs who had a large booksellers and stationers shop, in another street leading out of Soho Square, was somehow connected with us. He was burnt out, when I was about ten years old, through the preparation which he was melting to make tracing paper boiling over and setting fire to the premises. My Grandmother had no family by the money-lender, who soon died leaving her all his property; and then she married John Hewitt, a son or grandson of the Earl of Lifford who was also Dean of Cloyne. He was an officer in the army, I think the Guards; but retired on his marriage, which was probably considered a mere alliance by his people, and he carried on the money lending business for many years, living first in the old house, where my mother and the elder members of the family were born, and afterwards at Clapham, in Surrey, about 5 miles south of London. It was he and not Wm Hughes Hughes who built __ many houses at Clapham and in my early days they all belonged to my mother’s brothers.
Henry Claylands Field was born after his grandparents died, so he never heard their stories firsthand. He was in his early 70s when he wrote this letter.
Sophia’s first marriage
Have yet to find anything about this. Harrison Isaacs is quite well documented, but I haven’t found any marriages that might link them. She was only 20 when she married John, so any first marriage must have been very young and very brief. Her marriage to John doesn’t give her marital status, but it does list her as Sophia Hughes implying she wasn’t a widow.
Son/Grandson of Viscount Lifford
While their surname is Hewitt, their tree is quite well documented. The first Viscount Lifford James Hewitt was born in 1712 and didn’t marry until 1749. He did have a son called John who was Dean of Cloyne and born in 1756, but this John married someone else and died in 1804.
Unless our John was an undocumented “wrong side of the blanket”, it’s impossible that he was a son or grandson. He possibly could have been the son or grandson of one of James’ uncles or brothers, but I have yet to find one documented that fits the details we have. And there are no James Hewitt’s in our branch – you’d think it might be a name that turns up?
My research into the Viscount Lifford connection is found on Myths & Legends: Viscounts Lifford.
Officer in the Army/Guards
Not sure which Guards – anyone out there who can enlighten me? Still looking for that one in the National Archives Online. Have downloaded the Army Officer Lists for a number of years, but have yet to find a John Hewitt. Found a Christopher Hewitt who was Provost Marshall of Havana – that would be an interesting ancestor to have!
Money Lender, Soho
This one appears to be true. The first record I found was in the Fire Insurance Policy Register for 1786. There is a John Hewitt, Pawnbroker in Greek Street, which is one of the streets Henry was trying to remember in his letter. Greek Street is also in the parish of St Anne Soho where John was living when he married. There are records on London Lives which indicate John Hewitt, the pawnbroker, was paying rates in Greek Street during at least the period 1786-1802. There is also an 1786 fire insurance policy for another John Hewitt in Denmark Street – I believe them to be the same person.
An 1822 declaration by John’s second son Frederick regarding the assets (or lack thereof) of his estate confirms that this John Hewitt is our John Hewitt:
“John Hewitt formerly of Greek Street in the parish of St Ann Westminster in the County of Middlesex but late of Clapham in the County of Surry”.
Given that John and Sophia married in 1891, it seems unlikely that he took over the business on his marriage to her.
There is an interesting article on Pawnbroker signs and some of the history of pawnbrokers in London in the 1902 Volume of the The Archaeological Journal produced by the Royal Archaeological Institute. John doesn’t rate a mention but there is reference to pawnbrokers advertising in newspapers – so somewhere new to look!
I think there were ultimately quite a few houses built in Clapham by the Hewitt family. John’s second son Frederick (one of Henry’s uncles) had 9 when he died, leaving two to each of his four sons and a third to his eldest. Unfortunately, none of them made it down to me.
The value of his estate implies that he owned none of them when he died. However, if he was a savvy businessman he may have “sold” them to his sons to reduce the amount of death duties he would have to pay. Another area to research!
I have a couple of theories on this story:
- John Hewitt was a lying toerag of an Irishman (the Viscount Liffords being an Irish title) who lied about his connections and service record to impress his potential in-laws. After all, if his birth date is correct, he was significantly older than his wife. Proving it will be difficult because I currently have no records as to where or when specifically he was born.
- And/or, there is some confusion over who married who. Perhaps John was married to a Miss Isaacs, not Sophia – he was certainly old enough to have had another wife. Research into this will continue.
The declaration made by John’s son Frederick in 1822 regarding the value of his father’s estate does nothing to improve my image of John. Frederick states that value of his father’s assets is not the “under £800” declared under the administration of his estate but rather around £20. It turns out that the “Household Goods Furniture Plate Linen and China” that comprised the nearly £800 were actually the property of the landlord and not John’s. His only assets were his clothes “which on account of his having for a considerable length of time previous to his decease been confined by severe illness to his Chamber and principally to his Bed were much under the value of twenty pounds”. Frederick then noted that he had applied for and received a refund of death duties paid.
It does make you think that his wife had all the money. However, back then, women couldn’t really own anything and Sophia predeceased her father so had no inheritance. So what were they living on? And what sort of man was he?