Hunting in London

I’ve spent the last week at the UK National Archives, trying to find the story of William Howet, mill-wright of Nottinghamshire.

My cunning plan to go through the taxation records didn’t really work.  They are too fragile, and in tiny 16th century handwriting in ink faded to pale brown on pale brown vellum.

The first day I was there, I was too tired (after 30 hours’ travelling) to do any real research, so I flicked through some old wills.

One was for Thurston Hawet in 1577, odd name, wrong spelling, and several counties away.  Partly out of amusement (because Thurston Howell III was the rich dude on Gilligan’s Island) I took a look anyway.  And that was quite interesting.  All of Thurston’s brothers and sisters died shortly before him (plague?), leaving his nephew and niece William and Ann.  Thurston left them some money, via his closest relative, his cousin William Howett of Fletton in Huntingdonshire.

William of Fletton owned a windmill, and his will (1594) refers to young William as his “servaunte and kynsman” — and he does mention Uncle Thurston by name, so we can be sure it’s the same one.

Thurston’s father (any my putative ancestor) was named Rees Howett, which rather boggled my mind.  I’ve been cheerfully assuming that my unlikely name combination is unique in the cosmos, and now find that I might be descended from another one 500 years earlier.  His father, Thomas, was one of the foremost Welsh scholars of his age, and the first to translate the Book of Revelations into Welsh (which I imagine would be a challenge).  So there’s some rich family history pickings with this line.

These wills and another by William of Fletton’s son John make it clear that my William was extremely young in the first will, and not yet 21 in 1594.  This would make him about 90 when he died in Nottinghamshire, old but not exceptionally so for that time.  There is additional circumstantial evidence that fits.  Unfortunately, I can’t find any compelling evidence (“I leave 5 shillings to my cousin William Howet of Eastwood”) probably because he had very few relatives left.  Thurston’s widow seems to have remarried a year later, so I’ll see if I can get a will for her or her husband.

So I’m not yet sure whether my expedition has been successful.  I did collect a whole stack of other material, and with more time I might be able to put some more pieces together.

I’m writing this at Heathrow, about to fly to Frankfurt to meet up with Allison and Owen.  We have made contact with quite a few of our past wwoofers, and look forward greatly to seeing them again.

Also this trip I’ve managed to see Kew Gardens, Hampton Court (bit disappointed), the National Gallery, the Portrait Gallery, St Paul’s Cathedral and “Macbeth” at Shakespeare’s Globe (some great bits, but a bit brutal for me!).


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