Thursday, 29 December 2016

John Baber, Vicar of Great Chesterford (1716-1792)

Great Chesterford Church

For many years, I have been aware that John Baber (1716-1792) was Vicar of Great Chesterford, a village between Cambridge and Saffron Walden in Cambridgeshire. However, because until quite recently, I could find only very little about his life, beyond the theft of his Madder plants having taken place, and that he had been a pluralist, as were so many of his brother Church of England clergymen at this time: I had assumed that his life and career was one of quiet contemplation, punctuated the weekly round of services.

However, with the recent appearance of the Church of England Database, [1] and the explosion of information coming available via the Internet, I am finding that his life has considerable interest.

John was the brother of my 5 x great grandfather, Thomas Draper Baber, the fourth son of John Baber 1684 – 1765 of Sunninghill in Berkshire.

John was born shortly before the 4 July 1716 at Sunninghill in Berkshire.

Sunning-Hill Park, Berkshire. [2]

John and Anne had previously had three boys, Thomas Draper Baber, born on the 19th of May 1711, William born on the 2nd of September 1712, however he only lived a short while, dying on the 5th of November that year, and in April 1714, Peregrine was born and baptised on the 4th of the month. A further daughter, Charlotte arrived during August 1718.

They were brought up at Sunninghill Park in Berkshire, which had been inherited by their father on the death of their grandmother in 1719.  Their grandfather had died in August 1718.

We know nothing about John’s upbringing, beyond the fact that in 1722, it was costing his father £100 a year to educate all of his children.  It is probable that John went to Reading school, as had his elder brother Thomas.  John Loveday of Caversham described John’s father as “an admirable Grecian and polite scholar.”

John's father had inherited the estate from his late Grandmother, Mary the daughter of Sir Thomas Draper; however, much of the money had already been spent, and it is probable that John’s father was one of those who lost heavily with the bursting of the South Sea Bubble.

John’s father had been a passionate stag hunter, who also ran a literary spa based around the Wells Inn Public house. The house was run as a spa which became a resort for many of the local gentry, and literary names of the day, including Lord Hervey and Lady Montagu Wortley.

However, family life must have been strained, because on 7th of July 1727 his parents separated. This must have been a traumatic event for the children. His mother was Lady Anne Stawell, who had married John Baber of Sunninghill on the 28th of April 1710.

Until the 1720's the marriage had endured, however it was to end in a complex divorce, which in those days entailed the passing of an Act of Parliament. A huge document survives in the National Archives at Kew that sets out John's case for divorce, based on desertion.  Anne was absenting herself to London, and spending £500 a year on dresses and extravagant living.

John's father meanwhile was building sets of farm houses and buildings at £400 on his estate at East Ham for each and spending freely on books, amassing at least 2,500 titles.

When John was 19, he went up to St John’s College Oxford, where he Matriculated on February the 6th 1735 – 6. He took his B.A. there in 1739.

In the following year he was ordained Deacon at Bangor on the 1st June 1740. It is not known what John did for the following six years, but on the 10th of October 1746, John became the domestic chaplain to Edward 4th Baron Stawell of Somerton in Somerset.

Edward 4th Baron Stawell (1685-1755) by Michael Dahl.[4]

Edward, Baron Stowell was the nephew of John's mother Anne. Edward Stawell lived at Hinton Ampner in Hampshire, Aldermaston Court, and occasionally at Somerton in Somerset. It is very probable that he also had a house in London as well. It is not possible to say just how much time that John Baber would have spent in his role as domestic chaplain to Baron Stawell, but presumably it must have been a fairly comfortable time.

The Surviving gates to Aldermarston Court.

Stawell's home at Aldermaston, was the closest to to the Baber family home at Sunninghill, and was most probably where John Baber acted as Chaplain to the Baron.  The fact that the Baron felt able to employ John, when his sister Anne had been divorced by John Baber's father, suggests that John and his mother had maintained contact following her divorce.

We don't know where Anne lived after her divorce, but it is very likely that she spent some of her time at Aldermarston. After her death, she was buried in the Baber family vault at Sunninghill Church.

A year or so later, on the 2nd of December 1747, he took his M.A. degree at Cambridge. On the 6th of March 1747-8 he was ordained at Lincoln, and became Rector of Little Chesterford on the 9th of March 1748, and Vicar of Great Chesterford on the 22nd of March 1748.

Little Chesterford Church

While we know that John married Elizabeth Bate Prissick, at present I cannot establish when the marriage took place, or indeed where.  What I have been able to establish is that her father was Codrington John Prissick who came from Carlton in North Yorkshire [5]

Codrington John Prissick had been baptised in 1701 at St Dunstan's in the East End of London. He was the son of Christopher Prissick and Sarah (nee Codrington), who had been married in 1691 in Barbados, where Sarah had been the daughter of one of the major landowning families on the Island at that time.

Codrington Johns' father, Christopher, originated from Carlton in Yorkshire, and was a wealthy merchant, who appears to have lived in London, but then moved back to Carlton before his death in 1718.

Codrington John Prissick was married in 1723, at Whorlton, North Yorkshire, to Elizabeth Perrott [6], daughter of Charles Perrott, sometime Mayor of York, and they had at least 7 children, who were baptised in Carlton between 1724 and 1736.

Codrington John Prissick inherited significant properties from his father in 1718, including the manor of Carlton and its associated Alum mines. 

The Manor House at Carlton, probable childhood home to Elizabeth Prissick.

The alum mines have a particular significance, as Alum could be used not just as part of textile dying process, but was also used extensively for the refining of raw sugar loaves.

It is probably highly significant that her father was Codrington John Prissick.  The Codrington family under Christopher Codrington (c. 1600-1656) had been amongst the most successful of the pioneering settlers in Barbados. Chistopher Codrington married Frances Drax, who had several sons, including John Codrington (c.1642-c.1688) who had married Sarah Bate, daughter of Colonel William Bate of Barbados.

This marriage produced at least five children, including Sarah Codrington, who had married Christopher Prissick of London, parents of Codrington John Prissick.[7]

Former Alum Mines on Carlton Bank, looking north towards Middlesborough

Note how Elizabeth Bate Prissick has the middle name Bate.  This naming pattern was very common during the 18th Century, with my great x 4 grandfather Samuel Hawkins, a London solicitor and promoter of loans to South Wales mining interests calling his sons by long strings of names including Bennett, Popkin, and after a number of other mining owners who were amongst his clients.

John Baber appears to have suggested this practice to his brother Thomas. John's living at Great Chesterford was within the gift of the Hervey family, major East Anglian landowners, with the result that my 3 x great grandfather was called Henry Hervey Baber, and he had Thomas Hervey Baber, and James Hervey Baber for brothers.

There were many members of the Bate family active in Barbados and Antigua while Elizabeth was a child, and it is probable that one of them was invited to become her Godfather.

Late 19th Century Mapping of Carlton Bank, showing both the former Alum mines,
but also the Jet Workings.

Quite a number of the early colonial planters tried to vertically integrate their sugar plantations, by using brothers or other close family members to organise the marketing of the sugar in England or to the Continent. Two thirds of the sugar arriving in England was for onward sale to Europe.

It looks as if the Prissick family had repatriated funds to England, and had bought up the Alum mines so that they could supply Alum to the processing works in Antigua where their main plantations were.

The Alum mines at Charlton have been restored over the past 30 years, removing much of the former workings, but as the following image shows, their effect on the landscape is still clearly to be seen from the following aerial photograph.

Alum and Jet Mines on Charlton Bank.  
The village is situated in the plain to the north of the escarpment.

Because it is not at all clear where Elizabeth and John were married, and because a gap of about five years exists in John's documentation, it is entirely possible that John had made the voyage to the West Indies, and this may have been where they met.

John Baber's father had spent some of his childhood in Spain, and when his library was sold in 1766, it contained what was then the largest collection of Spanish and Italian books in England. These included a number of titles on the Spanish colonies in South America and the Spanish Main.  John's brother Peregrine Baber had made the journey to the West Indies as a Marine Officer where he had taken part in the ill fated siege of Cartagena in 1746.  The regiment of Marines Peregrine served in was raised in Hartlepool and South Shields.

It is quite possible that John was involved in this expedition, or may have already been in the West Indies.

It does appear however that not all was well, with Elizabeth's father as the properties were passed on to his Uncle John Prissick during the 1740s.

By October 1746, John was active and appears in the records in England once again.

Appointed Vicar of Great Chesterford on the 22nd of March 1748, he now had two parishes to run, situated a little over a mile apart.  Great Chesterford was not situated on the main London to Cambridge road, although these were not far removed. It was however on the main London to Newmarket route, much used by crowds visiting the horse races. As such the village was well supplied with pubs and inns.

Interior of Great Chesterford Church.

As far as we can tell John and Elizabeth Baber lived in Great Chesterford for the next twenty years. There is no record of their having any children, and it is not entirely clear where in the village they lived.  There are at least three vicarages in the village. One in the grounds of the other two, is a modern post 1970's vicarage, while the second larger one behind the church appears both too recent for the family to have lived in, as well as two large.

Next to the church gate is the "Old Vicarage" which appears to have a considerable amount of 15th Century, or possibly earlier woodwork in its structure.

I believe that this is the most likely house to have been the home to John and Elizabeth Baber.

The Old Vicarage, Great Chesterford. 
The Church gate can be seen to the right of the photo.

Codrington John Prissick died in 1753, at which time he was living in York. The administration of his estate was granted in that year. A possible clue to the loss of his property being that the administration was granted to his principal creditor, a Joseph Hawksworth of the City of York, a Wine & Spirit Merchant. [8]

Ockley's History of the Saracens.

One of the frustrations of historical research into ones ancestors, is that it is very hard to find out what caught their interest.  In the case of John Baber, we get a tantalising glimpse from the fact that he was interested enough in Islam and the rise of the Saracen Empire to buy Simon Ockley's book, The History of the Saracen's. The book had been written in about 1708 by Ockley who was Vicar of Swavesey and was appointed professor of Arabic in 1711.  Ockley who fell into debt was imprisoned in Cambridge Castle in 1718, and had died in 1720.  The life of Mohammed was added by Roger Long who reissued the book in 1757 as a way of relieving the distress Ockley's destitute daughter was in. Perhaps this is why John bought the book, perhaps he was aware of her plight.

The subscription page for surnames beginning with B.

Aged 47, on the 3rd of March 1763 John became Chaplain to Robert Carteret, 3rd Earl of Granville (1721-1776). Robert Carteret had succeeded to his father’s title on the death of the latter on the 2nd of January 1763.

Robert Carteret, 3rd Earl of Granville (1721-1776) by John Smart [9]

It is not clear why John Baber should have wished to take up this post, however the Carteret family, who were originally from the Isle of Jersey had had property in Sunninghill in Berkshire, and as such must have know the Baber family for much of the previous hundred years.

Robert Carteret was the only surviving son of John Carteret, 2nd Earl of Granville. He is described as being of weak intellect, although through influence he had been secured a seat as MP for Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight in December 1744. An unsuccessful attempt had been made to have him adopted as a candidate for Cornwall in April 1744.

Elizabeth Wyndham wrote in 1744:

"Young Carteret has been at Wooburn, where he has raised the Devil in a manner so indecent that I cannot give you details. The Duke has told his father that he ought to have him put under control, for his head appears to be turned, as it may well be, for he drinks brandy from morning till night."

On 16 Aug. 1744 Horace Walpole wrote to Mann:

“About a fortnight ago he was at the Duke of Bedford’s and as much in his few senses as ever. At five o’clock in the morning he waked the Duke and Duchess all bloody and with the lappet of his coat held up full of ears; he had been in the stable and cropped all the horses.”

It is possible that John Baber was being expected to try to exercise some control on a less than rational being, who now had lost the restraint his later father might have tried to impose.

20 years later, and at about the time John Baber became his Chaplain, Elizabeth Montagu wrote of him:

"It is grievous to see such a creature represent the late Earl, who had all the grace and dignity of manner added to great talents".

Robert Carteret had had a mistress for over forty years who was called Elizabeth, and was probably of French origin.  He eventually married her, but died without heirs.

Elizabeth, Lord Carteret's Daughter?

The National Gallery of Victoria has a second portrait of “Lord Carteret’s Daughter” also by John Smart. Robert Carteret is not believed to have had any heirs. Was this a daughter who died before him, or is this really a portrait of his mistress?

It is quite possible that it was John Baber’s role to try to moderate Robert Carteret’s extremes, but if this was the case, he does not seem to have been at all successful, because another contemporary report described Carteret in 1776 as:

"rather deficient in his intellects, fond of low company, profuse, fickle and debauched. He appeared constantly in the mean garment of a groom or coachman, shunning his equals, and rioting in taverns with pimps and prostitutes. The conclusion of his inglorious amours was a Fleet marriage with one Molly Paddock, a woman of vile extraction, bold, loose and vulgar, the superintendent of a bagnio".[10]

Along with his estates in England and on Jersey, Robert Carteret had inherited a large amount of land in North Carolina from his father.

When in London Carteret appears to have lived at 3 New Burlington Street in London from 1764 to 1775, where presumably John Baber must have ministered to him.[11]

He also inherited Hawnes Park, in Bedfordshire situated in the village of Haynes, which was about 35 miles due west of Great Chesterford.

Hawnes Park, in Bedfordshire situated in the village of Haynes.

We don't know how John Baber divided his time between his duties for Lord Carteret and his parochial duties. Presumably he employed curates to minister to the villagers at Chesterford.

There is an interesting possible indicator both of the fact that with the vicar spending less time in the village, the locals felt that they could help themselves to his property.

Madder Roots, used to make red dyes.


CHESTERFORD, Jan. 7, [1764]

Whereas a small Plantation of MADDER, containing near a Quarter of an Acre, lying in the Parish of Little Chesterford in the County of Essex, and belonging to the Rev. John Baber, has been robbed of a considerable Quantity of Plants and Roots, to the great Detriment of the Owner; this is to give Notice, that anybody who will inform against the Person or Persons who have robbed the said Plantation, so that he, she, or they, may be lawfully convicted there- of, shall receive the Reward of Ten Pounds, by the said J. BABER. [12]

John Baber's signature.

In amongst a set of family autographs collected, very probably by my five times great grandfather Thomas Draper Baber, are two signatures from two documents dating from February 1766. This was the year when his father's estate at Sunninghill was being broken up and sold. Nearly a hundred years of their family life was being dispersed.

John Baber's second signature.

In 1770, Christopher Prissick, Elizabeth's brother died at Havannah in Cuba.

Havannah at about the period HMS Rippon and Christopher Prissick arrived there.

Christopher Prissick's will gives interesting detail of her wider family.

Prerogative Court Canterbury, Admons:
8 March 1770
Adm granted to.. 

- Hannah Gisborne (wife of Thomas William Gisborne) the daughter and admr of William Gyles decd (who whilst living was a creditor of the said decd)
- Elizabeth Prissick, widow, natl and lawful mother and next of kin
- Elizabeth Bate Baber (wife of the rev John Baber) and Hannah Rennie, widow, natl & lawful sisters
- Elizabeth Prissick, spinster, niece of the said decd having renounced and Ann Prissick, spinster, Codrington Charles Prissick, Thomas Prissick & Bate Hannah Prissick, spinster, the nephew & nieces of the said decd having also renounced by Elizabeth Prissick widow their natural and lawful mother and curatrix or guardian lawfully assigned.

With his previous employer dead, aged 60, and possibly finding parish duties too much John first found a new post as domestic chaplain, and then resigned his livings at Great and Little Chesterford.

On the 1st April 1776 John became domestic chaplain to David Kennedy, 10th Earl of Cassilis (c. 1734-1792.) The Earl of Cassilis estates lay near Alloway south of the River Doon. His home was at Culzean Castle, which he re-built, commissioning Robert Adam as his architect. The cost of the re-building greatly exceeded the Earl’s income, and by the time of his death he owed £60,000 to his creditors.

Culzean Castle built in stages between 1777 and 1792

Again, we face the frustration of not knowing how much time each year John had to spend with the Earl, or indeed where the Earl himself was living.  Presumably with the Castle being substantially re-built throughout much of this period, the Earl and by implication his Chaplain must have only visited the site of Robert Adams work.

James Boswell described the Earl of Cassillis as ”a good honest merry fellow.”

Before succeeding to the Earldom, David Kennedy had been working as an advocate living at Newark.

In June 1776, the following notice appeared in the Ipswich Journal.

The Rev. Edward Waterson, B. A. is presented by the Earl of Bristol to the vicarage of Great Chesterford in Essex, void by the promotion of the Rev. Mr. Baber.[13]

Possibly with a view to retaining a living in the South of England in the event that his employer died, or his role came to an end, John took the living of Little Chishall which is about nine miles west of Chesterford, set into the folds of the Chiltern escarpment, not far from Royston.

John became Rector of Little Chishall on 13th May 1776 and remained in that post until his death in 1792.

St Nicholas Church, Little Chishall.

The village of Little Chishall is very sparsely populated even today, and John's parish duties cannot have been onerous. It is probable that for most of the year he lived with the Earl of Cassillis as part of the Earl's household, and that he employed a curate to take the services in Chishall.

The Rectory, Little Chishall.

By  1782, Thomas Draper Baber, John's brother had taken a house in Newton, a village about nine miles due north of Little Chishall.

A map showing the locations of Great Chesterford, Little Chishall and Newton

In 1792 during his seventeenth-year Henry Hervey Baber recorded: -

“Went in July with my fath sic. (to) Great Chesterford and staid there 2 days in which time the Rev.d John Baber died aged 75.”[14] 

An entry in the diary of Henry Hervey Baber's recording the death of the Rev'd John Baber.

What is interesting, is that it shows that John had returned to Great Chesterford for his final years. Little Chishall was such a small village, that it must have been very isolated. 

It is unknown where John is buried. As late as 1827, it was hoped to bury Thomas Baber in the family vault at Sunninghill, but this provided not to be possible at the time because the church was being re-built in that year. It is quite possible that John was placed into the family vault at Sunninghill, as there is no obvious monument to him at Great Chesterford.

Great Chesterford Graveyard, the dates on several gravestones
 are those people who must have been his parishioners

A curious entry in the Clergy Database suggests that on the 22 February 1793 John had become Curate of St George Hanover Square, however this must be a mistake as he had died in the previous year.

The River Cam at Great Chesterford.

If you should stumble onto this blog perhaps because you are researching the history of your village or family, and you recognise any of the people and places named, please do not hesitate to contact me.

I am particularly trying to fill in the gap during the 1740's. Can you find John and Elizabeth, perhaps in the West Indies? Or perhaps you are aware of where in England they were?

Do you know of any accounts of visits to the homes of  Edward 4th Baron Stawell, Robert Carteret, 3rd Earl of Granville, or the Earl of Cassillis as I would love to be able to establish how John Baber fitted in his role with these domestic chaplain posts and those in his parishes.

I can be contacted at

[2] From
[4] National Trust, Hinton Ampner.
[5] In Cleveland since the changes to the County Boundaries during the 1970's.
[7] See Matthew Parker's book, The Sugar Barons, for simplified family trees, and much much more on the Codrington, Prissick, Drax and Bate families. Published 2011.
[8] “In February 2003, we received the following information from Mr David King who came across the Societies website whilst researching one of his Ancestors; Codrington John Prissick, Captain of the Arrow in 1726.  From”
[12] The Ipswich Journal- Saturday 21 January 1764.
[13] The Ipswich Journal - Saturday 29 June 1776.
[14] From “Memoranda relating the life of Henry Hervey Baber”, a handwritten diary of H H Baber’s life.

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