Saturday, 16 July 2016

The Knights of Godmersham and a Legg connection

In this article I am looking a little more closely at the Knight family of Godmersham and examining a link to a woollen draper by the name of Legg.

Thomas and Catherine Knight

As is well known, Jane Austen's brother Edward was adopted by the very wealthy but childless Thomas and Catherine Knight of Godmersham Park in Kent. Thomas Knight was the son of Thomas Brodnax (c1701 - 1781). Brodnax changed his name to May in order to inherit from his mother's cousin and then to Knight in order to inherit Chawton from his father's cousin, Elizabeth Knight. It required a private Act of Parliament each time, allegedly prompting one MP to propose a general bill 'to enable that gentleman to take what name he pleased.' Thomas Brodnax/May/Knight's wife Jane Monk was a second cousin of Jane's father, George Austen. (Jane Monk's grandmother was the sister of George Austen's grandfather.)

Thomas Brodnax May Knight
by Michael Dahl

Jane Monk by Michael Dahl

George Austen had been granted the living at Steventon by Thomas Knight in 1761; the living had become available because the incumbent, George Austen's cousin Henry Austen, had been granted the living of West Wickham by their wealthy uncle Francis Austen of Sevenoaks, who was the cousin of Thomas Knight's mother-in-law, Hannah Stringer.

In 1779 Thomas and Jane Knight's son Thomas Knight II (1735-1794) married Catherine Knatchbull (1752-1812). Two years later, in 1781, Thomas Knight II inherited the estates of Chawton and Godmersham on the death of his father. In Easter 1783 the Knights embarked on a tour of their estates and visited the Austens at Steventon where Edward Knight, then aged 15, was introduced to them. Edward spent his holidays with the Knights and they later adopted him as their heir. It is possible, as Maggie Lane suggests in Jane Austen's Family, that the eldest boy, James, was not selected as he was expected to inherit from the wealthy Leigh Perrots on his mother's side of the family. 

Thomas Knight II
attributed to Francis Cotes

Catherine Knight née Knatchbull
miniature painted by Ozias Humphry
copied from a painting by George Romney

The presentation of Edward Austen to the Knights
by William Wellings

Initially Jane was rather waspish about Catherine Knight: In 1799 she wrote to Cassandra that 'Mrs Knights giving up the Godmersham Estate to Edward was no prodigious act of Generosity after all it seems, for she has reserved herself an income out of it still; - this ought to be known, that her conduct may not be over-rated. - I rather think Edward shews the most Magnanimity of the two, in accepting her Resignation with such Incumbrances.' (Two years previously Catherine had signed over Godmersham and the majority of her other estates to Edward, despite the latter's protestations.)

But in later years Jane's opinion of Catherine Knight changed.

In 1807 Cassandra visited Mrs Knight at Canterbury. Of the visit, Jane wrote: 'I have no doubt of your spending your time with her most pleasantly in quiet and rational conversation, and am so far from thinking her expectations of you will be deceived, that my only fear is of your being so agreeable, so much to her taste, as to make her wish to keep you with her for ever.'    

The following year Jane wrote that 'this morning brought me a letter from Mrs Knight containing the usual Fee & all the usual Kindness. She asks me to spend a day or two with her this week, to meet Mrs C [Charles] Knatchbull, who with her Husband comes to the W. Friars to day - & I beleive I shall go.'  

Jane went to stay with Mrs Knight at Canterbury and the visit evidently went well. Soon afterwards Jane wrote to Cassandra: 'You & I need not tell each other how glad we shall be to receive attention from, or pay it to anyone connected with Mrs Knight,' Interestingly, she goes on to say, 'I cannot help regretting that now, when I feel enough her equal to relish her society, I see so little of the latter.'

In May 1811 Mrs Knight offered Jane her spinning wheel which Jane evidently refused:'I cannot endure the idea of her giving away her own wheel, & have told her no more than the truth, in saying that I could never use it with comfort. Jane then jokes that she had 'a great mind to add that if she persisted in giving it, I would spin nothing with it but a Rope to hang myself—but I was afraid of making it appear a less serious matter of feeling than it really is.'

Catherine Knight died on 14 October 1812, aged 59. The following year Jane, while staying at Godmersham, wrote to her brother Francis, that 'The Knatchbulls, dear Mrs Knight's brothers, dined here the other day.' Jane had obviously grown fond of Catherine Knight by the time of her death.

Godmersham Park

Catherine Knight née Knatchbull was the daughter of Wadham Knatchbull (1707-1760), a younger son of Edward Knatchbull, 4th Baronet. Wadham Knatchbull was appointed Prebendary of Durham in 1738 and Vicar of Chilham, Kent in 1739. In 1743 he married Harriet Parry (1712 - 1794) at Somerset House Chapel, London.

Harriet Parry was the daughter of Charles Parry of Oakfield Park in Berkshire and his wife Mary Charlotte Chardin. Charles Parry, who was born in Lisbon, was the son of Francis Parry, British Envoy to Portugal *(see footnote). Mary Chardin was the daughter of Sir John Chardin, the renowned French traveller and court jeweller to Charles II.

Charles and Harriet Parry had five children - Wadham, Charles, Harriet, Wyndham and Catherine.

But a series of bereavements afflicted Harriet. First her husband Wadham Knatchbull died in 1760 at the age of 53. Then seven years later her eldest daughter, Harriet, died at Cosgrove in Northamptonshire at the age of nineteen. Her mother placed a memorial in Cosgrove Church to her:

 To the Memory of
HARRIET KNATCHBULL, Eldest Daughter of
and Son of Sir EDWARD KNATCHBULL of KENT, Bart
The Accomplishments of this young Lady were,
So truly amiable, that her Relations & Aquaintance
will ever remember her Early Departure
with the greatest Concern.
She died in the 19th year of her Age.
Octr. 27th 1767.
This Monument was erected by the
order of Her disconsolate Mother.

Memorial to Harriet Parry
in Cosgrove Church

Then in 1773 her eldest son, Wadham Knatchbull, who had become a preacher at Highgate Chapel died, aged 27. (Highgate Chapel stood in the centre of Highgate. Built in around 1567, it was demolished in 1833)

Memorial to Wadham Knatchbull

Harriet Knatchbull herself died on 12 October 1794 after a few hours illness, survived by her daughter Catherine Knight and her two sons, Charles and Wyndham Knatchbull.

Charles Knatchbull became a captain in the Royal Navy and married his cousin Frances Knatchbull, daughter of his father's brother Norton Knatchbull. He stayed at Godmersham in 1805 when Jane was also staying there and in 1808 Jane also met his wife when she was staying with Catherine Knight at Canterbury. Jane reported to Cassandra that the two of them 'breakfasted tete a tete' and that Mrs CK was 'just what we have always seen her.'

Wyndham Knatchbull became a London merchant. He also married a cousin, Catherine Maria Knatchbull, the daughter of Sir Edward Knatchbull, 7th Baronet.

In April 1811 Jane was staying with brother Henry and his wife Eliza in Sloane Street, London. Henry and Eliza hosted a party. Afterwards, Jane wrote to Cassandra, 'I depended upon hearing something of the Evening from Mr W.K. - & am very well satisfied with his notice of me. "A pleasing young woman", - that must do; - one cannot pretend to anything better now - thankful to have it continued a few years longer!'

In 1813 both Charles and Wyndham Knatchbull visited Godmersham when Jane was staying there, along with Wyndham's son, Wadham. 'They are very goodnatured you know & civil & all that - but are not particularly superfine'  - she told Cassandra - 'however, they ate their dinner & drank their Tea & went away, leaving their lovely Wadham in our arms.'

Charles Parry and the Legg connection

Meanwhile, Harriet Knatchbull's cousin Charles Parry, son of her uncle, Francis Parry, was the owner of an oat and corn mill in Mitcham, Surrey. He married Elizabeth Pratt at All Hallows Barking in the City of London in 1743. She was the daughter of Henry Pratt, a citizen and merchant shipwright of London, based at Wapping.

The couple had two children, both girls - Frances in 1744 and Elizabeth in 1746, but then Charles Parry died in December 1747 at the age of 37. His brother-in-law Henry Pratt was one of the executors of his will.

Three years later, in 1750, the widowed Elizabeth Parry married again. Her second husband was Leaver Legg (1722-1775). A prominent member of the Guild of Merchant Taylors, Leaver Legg came from a family of wollen drapers who had traded at 70 Cornhill for over half a century. Leaver's father, Daniel Legg (ca.1696-1751) was one of eight children and had run the business, probably in partnership with his brother John, as a report from the Old Bailey records that in 1726 a William Brooks alias John Lasingby of St Michael's Cornhill was indicted for stealing from the shop of Daniel and John Legg, eight yards of 'nap dragger', value 24 shillings and sentenced to transportation.

Elizabeth and Leaver Legg had two further children, Joanna, who died soon after she was born, and Leaver Legg junior, born in 1753. Both children were baptised at the non-conformist church at Crutched Friars in Southwark. (Elizabeth Legg née Pratt's family were also non-conformist; she had been baptised at the Independent Chapel in Gravel Lane, Stepney in 1723.)

Leaver Legg died in 1775. At the time of his death his son and namesake was 22 years old. He had been apprenticed to his father in 1768 for seven years and he evidently continued the family business at 70 Cornhill for the name Leaver Legg continues to appear in the land tax records at Cornhill until the year 1800.

This Leaver Legg married a Mary Forster and the couple had several children. Land records show them living at Hackney and later at Woodford in Essex. Leaver Legg died in September 1802 and was buried at All Saints Church, Kingston Upon Thames. In his will he is described as 'Leaver Legg formerly of Cornhill but now of Woodford in the county of Essex. 

Invoice dated 29 Aug 1792 from Leaver Legg, Woollen Draper

The Legg Stamp on the Rice Portrait
When the Rice Portrait was re-lined in 1985 it revealed a stamp on the back of the portrait which read "Wm Legg Holbourn 1" (Holbourn with a U is the older form of the name from Hole Bourne, a brook which formed the upper part of Fleet River, and ran in deep hollows.)

Stamp on the Rice Portrait

The National Portrait Gallery maintains that this is the stamp of William Legg from Reading who traded in High Holborn as an artist's colourman from 1801 until around 1806. They argue that, therefore, the portrait must date to after 1801.

However, there are only two known stamps for William Legg of Reading - both of which read 'W & J Legg' not 'Wm Legg' and both of which spell 'Holborn' without the u'.

Stamp for W & J Legg

Stamp for W & J Legg

In the eighteenth century, traders would cluster in specific areas  - street names such as Poultry Street, Ironmonger Lane and Bread Street describe the nature of the traders who once congregated here. In the late eighteenth century there were many linen traders centred around Holborn  - a quick search of the National Archives for 'Holborn Linen Drapers' for 1750-1800 produces insurance records and other documents for over forty linen drapers in the Holborn and High Holborn area - and for many more we would have no record at all.

I have previously suggested a possible alternative to William Legg of Reading suggested by the National Portrait Gallery. This is William Daniel Legg, son of Thomas Legg, baptised at St Sepulchre Church, Holborn in 1743.

I believe it is very possible that William Daniel Legg was related to Leaver Legg. William's middle name was Daniel, the same as Leaver's father and William Daniel Legg served his apprenticeship from 1757-1764 with John Norris, who traded as a haberdasher, at Number 3 Cornhill. Trading in the same street and in the same goods, John Norris and Leaver Legg must have known each other. William Daniel Legg's father was Thomas Legg - there is a record of a Thomas Legg baptised in St Stephan's Church, Coleman Street in 1722, the son of a Daniel and Sarah Legg, but I have (so far) been unable to work out whether this was the same Thomas Legg.

Leaver Legg's father-in-law Henry Pratt was a Citizen and Merchant of London, trading as a shipwright in Wapping, London. Land tax records for 1730 and 1731 show him as living next to a John Norris. Land tax records for 1745 show Henry Pratt as being at the same yard, alongside shipwright Thomas West, but now he is recorded as also having a bakehouse next door. John Norris is no longer resident at Wapping by this time.

Later, William Daniel Legg also traded at Wapping, at Pelican Stairs, listed in Bailey's and Wakefield's  Directories for 1785 and 1790 respectively as a 'dealer in ship stores (marine)'.  In 1797, described as 'Citizen and Haberdasher', William Daniel Legg took on an an apprentice, John Walters, who was the son of Thomas Walters, who traded in ships biscuits, Irish provisions  and sail cloth. Thomas Walters, like Henry Pratt was non-conformist - his children were baptised at the same  Independent Chapel at Gravel Lane in Stepney and like Leaver Legg, Thomas Walters was a member of the Merchant Tailors Company.

The Prospect of Whitby, Wapping,
once known as The Pelican.
Pelican Stairs is to the left.
Linen canvas used by artists in the eighteenth century was very similar to the fabric used for ships sails. The National Portrait Gallery's informative website on canvas suppliers states: 

'Canvas is of course not exclusively a cloth for painting pictures; in 1828 John Trumbull, an American artist trained in England, described his paintings for the Capitol in Washington DC as being painted on a ‘linen cloth, whose strength and texture is very similar to that used for the topgallant-sails of a ship of war’.

There is therefore no contradiction in trading as a suppler of linen both for artists and for shipping. Marine suppliers often traded in a range of goods, from canvas for sails to ships biscuits for sailors.
These connections are far from conclusive but they also seem more than coincidence. And if William Daniel Legg was a relative of Leaver Legg - who had a family link to Harriet Knatchbull - isn't it at least possible that he, or that some other William Legg trading in High Holborn in the 1780s, was the supplier of the canvas for the portrait and that it was not supplied by William Legg of Reading?

This new work builds on previous analysis carried out by the portrait's owners and others which has called into question the claim of the NPG that the linen stamp on the back of the Rice Portrait could only belong to William Legg of Reading. The new research presented here considerably strengthens the case that the stamp could date to the eighteenth century.

This research will now be presented to the National Portrait Gallery with a request to re-evaluate their position that the linen stamp can reliably be attributed to William Legg of Reading. If, having verified the facts presented here, the NPG continues to assert that the stamp must date to after 1800, then it begins to look less like "dry and dusty art history" and more like obduracy.

*Another son of Francis Parry, British Envoy, and his wife Catherine Pearce was Revd George Parry of Stratfield Mortimer. George's grandson Charles Parry was Vicar of Speen, Berkshire.
Charles Parry's daughter Anna-Maria Parry was the third wife of Colonel Thomas Harding Newman. You can read more about her in a previous post HERE. Anna-Maria Parry's widowed mother leased her house in Speen to Jane Austen's nephew, James Edward Austen Leigh.