Are these the Miss Walnes you’re looking for?

Check it out! #52Ancestors Week 14

“In a long list of 1825 [Norwich] Public Library members, I was delighted to find my distant aunt, ‘Miss Walne of Whitlingham’, whose name is printed beside many other Georgian citizens. She was something of a minority as a female (women appear to make up less than ten per cent of members, honorary members and committee). It is possible that she once borrowed some of the very volumes held at Norfolk Heritage Centre today, although, in her time, the librarian was, of course, a man: Mr Richard Langton.” 

The above was one of the ‘Did You Know’ facts in the libraries and archives chapter in my book, Secret Norwich, published back in 2018. 

This week’s #52Ancestors theme of “Check it out” immediately got me thinking about checking books out of the library. I thought about doing another post about how amazing our libraries are and how if you can support them in any way, I absolutely recommend it…but I’ve done that more than once, so I have taken this post in a different direction and instead my question is:

Who was Miss Walne of Whitlingham?

In 1825 there was just one Walne family in Whitlingham*, headed by William Walne (1748-1822), lord of the manor. The family lived at Whitlingham Hall (not the one we think of today, on the Crown Point estate, but an older building). It seems likely that the Miss Walne who supported the library was one of William’s daughters. 

*For those unfamiliar with Whitlingham, it’s just outside Norwich to the southeast, famous today for Whitlingham Country Park and Broad, and a church ruin that was already well on the way to being a picturesque study for painters. There are Victorian additions to the ruin, suggesting someone actively beautified it; could the Walnes have had something to do with it?!

While William seems the likely father of Miss Walne of Whitlingham – children born at the right time to be young adults in the early 19th century – there is a problem.

William had at least eleven children, and SIX of them were daughters.

Can any of the six be quickly ruled out?

Can any of the six be quickly ruled out?

Just one can be relatively easily discounted. Susanna (1783-1838) married in 1808, long before the published list. However, Susanna’s husband, Edward Taylor, was president of Norwich Public Library in 1822, deepening the family’s links with the library.

This leaves another five daughters: Jane, Mary, Hannah, Elizabeth and Sarah. There is no reason to believe that any of them weren’t local to Norwich in the 1820s. When the list was published in 1825, the Miss Walne in question was apparently still of Whitlingham, even though her father had died in 1822. It’s possible, though, that she was Whitlingham in name but not in residence.

Are there any clues in William’s will? 

William was a wealthy man. He left his daughters Jane, Hannah, Sarah and Elizabeth “£2000 apiece”. Using, the relative income value of that in 2020 might be between £185,300 to £2.5 million – even at the lower end of the range, the daughters were wealthy women by 1820s city standards. [Note: there are many ways to calculate modern day ‘worth’, I have used just a couple as an illustration.] 

William explained he had already made some provisions for his married daughter Susan in his lifetime but bequeathed her another £550. Mary received just £10 in this section of the will, as did her brother William. Not because they had displeased him, it turns out, but because they received land later in the will. Mary had “an undivided moiety or half part of and in all and every the Messuages Lands & Tenements and Hereditaments both Copyhold and Freehold and of every other nature situate lying and being at Topcroft in the said County of Norfolk.” This estate had previously belonged to William’s sister, Jane, who was also an independent lady. (Well done William for supporting the independent women in his life!)

While the will is enlightening in other ways, it doesn’t suggest which – if any – of the daughters remained in Whitlingham. William himself described himself as ‘of Swainsthorpe’ but had land in several other parishes – although not Whitlingham, it seems. I believe he sold the Whitlingham estate before his death, and some of the lands would later become the city sewage works in 1830.

What else do we know about the daughters from ‘standard’ sources?

Jane (1779-1831) married in Heigham on 1 September 1829, her groom William Heron David. (Bishop’s Transcripts; Archdeaconry of Norfolk; 1829 H-L). She turned 50 only weeks later. It’s possible that she lived with her sister Mary in Heigham before her marriage (the women may have pooled their legacies to live more comfortably and companionably). 

Mary (1780-1858) never married. She spent her last years on Upper Surrey Street with her unmarried sister Hannah and their widowed sister-in-law, who, confusingly, was also called Hannah Walne. In 1851, Mary’s occupation was enumerated as landed proprietor and the first Hannah’s as fundholder. (1851 Census; Norwich All Saints; ED 4; HO107 1814; p26) Mary’s living arrangement was probably a relatively long-standing arrangement (at least with her sister-in-law); they had been together in 1841, too.

Hannah (1782-1862) never married either, and after her elder sisters’ deaths, moved to St Paul’s, Norwich, perhaps indicating a reduction in circumstances. Her death was registered in Depwade RD, and her burial appears in Pulham St Mary Magdalen, alongside generations of Walnes. It seems likely that she went to stay with other relatives (possibly one of her brothers, she had five!) in her old age.

My namesake, Elizabeth Walne (1787-1882), was separated from the three eldest sisters by the births of two brothers. In 1841, she lived on Upper Surrey Street – I must find out if this was the same house lived in by her sisters in 1851. Elizabeth married David Cooper Colls at All Saints in Norwich in 1846. Like her sister Jane, she married at a relatively advanced age, perhaps 59 depending on the precise date of her birth. The sea air at 84 High Road, Southtown, must have suited her; she outlived all ten of her siblings and died at the grand old age of 95.

Finally, Sarah (1789-1872). Sarah spent a large chunk of her life as a housekeeper to her brother Thomas in Tasburgh, where he farmed. She is enumerated there in 1841, 51 and 61. Thomas died in February 1871, and by the time the census had come around, Sarah had moved in with her next-oldest sister, Elizabeth, by the seaside. The Pulham Magdalen burial register records Sarah’s abode as Yarmouth, so I suspect she lived there until she died, just a year after her brother.

Are these the Miss Walnes we’re looking for?

Yes, I think so, but exactly which of the five was a subscriber in 1825 remains a mystery.

At least, for now. 

Could it be as simple as ‘Miss Walne’ meaning the eldest, and therefore Jane? A newspaper article I’ve found refers to ‘Miss Walne, and Miss H. Walne’ of Whitlingham, both of whom supported the ‘Mrs Coes’ (Agatha, Catharine and Charlotte) when they retired from ‘conducting a respectable ladies seminary’ in 1825 by sending £1. (Norwich Mercury, 7 May 1825, p.3) 

All the women had the means and, it seems, the education to be a subscriber to Norwich Public Library, yet in this case, more records are necessary to form a robust conclusion. Next stop: the women’s wills. Ladies usually leave more interesting wills than their male counterparts, so I’ll look forward to it!

Does it even matter?

All those years that I worked with Norwich’s historic books at Norfolk Heritage Centre, perhaps the ‘other’ Miss Walne was under my nose the whole time, her name in a list somewhere in one of the volumes or an accompanying document. A former colleague may yet find something (I live in hope).

I can’t help but imagine it was Elizabeth, but my gut says it was one of Susanna’s seniors, maybe Jane. Who knows, perhaps it was an elder sister’s library involvement that introduced the younger sister Susanna to her literary husband-to-be. 

Ultimately, even if I never find out, it’s rather nice to know that I wasn’t the first Miss Walne to enjoy those particular volumes. Perhaps, just perhaps, I won’t be the last, either…

[Clearly, this post is sparsely referenced. It’s 10.30pm and I need some sleep! If you need a reference for anything, please contact me and I will find it for you.]

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