The Spencer Ancestors

The Spencers

This page tells the story of the Spencer line of the family. If you want to see a detailed diagram of the Spencer ancestors, then click Spencer Tree. This will open in a new tab so that you can flip between this page and the diagram.

These are the ancestors on the paternal line of Grandad Bill Spencer. The surname Spencer is an occupational name which means “dispenser of provisions”. This was derived from the Middle English word spense meaning “larder, pantry”. Because of this, there is no single place of origin for this name and it has a wide distribution around the country.

The Spencers in our family mainly lived in north-east Northamptonshire and Huntingdonshire before moving to Leeds. The map on the right shows the area where they lived.

Although the Spencers came from Northamptonshire, they seem to have stayed in the north-east corner of the county. Try as I might, I have not been able to establish any link with “THE SPENCERS” of Althorp Northamptonshire which is in the opposite, south-west of the county. I think the only way left to try and establish a connection with those Spencers is to ask Will or Harry to do a DNA test.

Northamptonshire map
North Northamptonshire Map

The earliest reference I have found to the Spencer ancestors was in 1697, so the story starts from there.

Thomas Spencer

The earliest detail was when Thomas Spencer christened his son Thomas Spencer on 21 March 1697 in Laxton in the north east corner of Northamptonshire. The records do not say who was Thomas’ wife.

This was the same year that St Paul’s Cathedral was ready for its first worship services after being re-built following the great fire of London. It was also a time when the new king, William of Orange, was seeking to establish his authority after deposing James II. The Battle of the Boyne and the Glencoe Massacre had taken place just few years before.

Thomas stayed in Laxton where he died in 1716.

Thomas Spencer and Mary Limming

Thomas was the son of Thomas mentioned above. He married Mary Limming on 23 Oct 1715 in Glapthorn Northamptonshire where they spent their married life. Glapthorn is about eight miles south west of Laxton where he was born. He died in 1765. I have not been able to find out anything about Mary.

William Spencer and Mary Crooks

William was a son of Thomas and Mary and was christened in 1722 in Glapthorn. He then moved six miles east to Elton Huntingdonshire. There he married Mary Crooks in 1756 where they spent their married life in Elton. They had 7 children. William died in 1794. Mary was christened in 1725 in Wakerley Northamptonshire. Wakerley is a small village near Laxton.

John Spencer and Lydia Marlow

John was a son of William and Mary and was christened in 1764 in Elton. He married Lydia Marlow in 1791. They had 6 children. Lydia was christened in 1764 in Oundle where her family came from. Oundle is five miles south west of Elton. They move back into Northamptonshire to Woodnewton which is five miles west of Elton. He worked as an agricultural labourer. He died in1842 and Lydia died in 1848.

Matthew Spencer and Dorothy Watson

Matthew was a son of John and Lydia and was christened in 1792 in Woodnewton. He married Dorothy Watson in 1816. They had 7 children. Dorothy was christened in 1784 in Corby.

Matthew was the first of the Spencers to be recorded as a stonemason. It would be hard work being a stonemason as it meant working outside in all weathers and you would be lifting heavy stone blocks. Then there was always the risk of falling off high scaffolding.

Stonemasons often had to move around to find work. They would usually not move their family, instead they would work away from home and come back when the job was finished. Matthew spent most of his life in Woodnewton, although when he married Dorothy Watson in 1816, the wedding was in Stamford. This is possibly because she gives her parish as Stamford.

Matthew must have been able to find enough local work around Woodnewton. While he lived there, a number of stone buildings were built in the village including the White Swan Inn and the Methodist Chapel so he could have worked on any of those. As well as building, stonemasons would also do other jobs such as carving, paving, repairs and memorial work.

His brother Thomas was also a stonemason. He was listed as a stonemason in Woodnewton in the 1854 Post Office directory. I also found a reference on the British History Online website where it described the Woodnewton Church. It mentioned that on the north wall of the belfry, there is an oval panel of mortar, inscribed ‘TS Thomas Spencer 1843’.

After Matthew’s wife Dorothy died in 1842, he married Mary Brown in 1846 and moved to Glapthorn, about four miles away. He died there in 1859 but was buried with his first wife in Woodnewton. Their grave still exists and is located close to the church door. As it is in such a prominent position, does this mean he was an important member of the village community?

We found four other Spencer graves in the Woodnewton churchyard. They were Ann, John, Ann, Sarah and Eliza (both in one grave). John is Matthew’s brother. The two Anns are John’s first and second wives. Sarah was probably the wife of Matthew’s son Thomas, but I’m not sure who Eliza was.

You can find out more about Woodnewton on their history website

Woodnewton Church
Woodnewton church with Matthew’s grave on the right

Matthew made a will which is as follows: –
This is the last will and testament of me Matthew Spencer of Glapthorn in the county of Northampton, stonemason and victualler. I give and devise unto my children John, Thomas, William, Elizabeth wife of Henry Meadows and Mary wife of William Spendlove all and every, my real estates whatsoever and wheresoever situated, to hold to them, their heirs and assign forever as tenants in common, not as joint tenants.
I give and bequeath to my wife Mary Spencer the legacy one sum of five pounds to be paid to her immediately after my decease for her own use and benefits.
I give and bequeath to my granddaughter Susan Meadows six silver teaspoons, a pair of table spoons and a pair of sugar bows. All my money and securities for money book and other debts live or dead, stock and effects about my fields and yards, I give and bequeath unto and equally between all my children share and share alike.
All the residue and remainder of my household furniture, stock of ale and beer, brewing utensils and effects in and about my dwelling house and premises at Glapthorn aforesaid, I give and bequeath to my daughter Elizabeth, the wife of the said Henry Meadows, absolutely together with the tenant right of the said house and premises if my present or any future landlord will accept the said Henry Meadows as tenant but subject to the payment of a weekly sum of five shillings to my said wife or her assigns during the time of her natural life such payments to be secured by the bond of the said Henry Meadows or in such other way as my executors hereinafter named shall be satisfied with.
But in case the said Henry Meadows shall not be accepted as tenant of my said house and premises, then I give and bequeath the said furniture and effects unto and equally between my said children on their entering into a security for payment of the said weekly sum to my wife.
And I nominate and appoint my said two sons John and Thomas joint executors of this my will. In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand this twenty first day of February one thousand eight hundred and fifty two – the mark of Matthew Spencer.’

The will mentions ‘tenants in common not joint tenancy’ The difference relates to what happens when one of the tenants dies. With joint tenancy, when one dies, their share goes to the other joint tenants. With tenants in common, when one dies, their share goes to their stated beneficiary.

His will shows a late change of occupation, because he describes himself as a stonemason and victualler. This is confirmed in the 1854 trade directory for Glapthorn which shows him as a beer retailer and mason. Perhaps he had to diversify as he would find lifting stone blocks harder as he grew older. He must have been doing quite well because he was able to buy silver teaspoons and according to the census, he was able to afford a servant.

It is interesting to see that he left everything to his children and not to his wife. Instead he arranged for his wife to have a regular income. This is probably because of the law then regarding women’s rights. If he had left everything to his wife and she married again, the law stated that everything she owned would now become her new husband’s property. Her new husband would have full control of her wealth and could do what he liked with it. She would have no power to stop him. That would have probably meant that Matthew’s children would have never received anything. It was not until the 1882 Married Women’s Property Act that a married woman could own anything in her own right. By doing what he did, Matthew made sure his children kept control of his inheritance, at the same time ensuring that his wife was provided for.

His son-in-law Henry Meadows did take over Matthew’s house (which was called Crown House) and made use of the brewing utensils. In the 1861 census, Henry is shown as living at the Crown Inn and an occupation of innkeeper and carpenter, so he had converted the house into an inn.

It remained an inn until 1993, but was then sold and converted back to a private residence, once again known as Crown House. When we went there in 2010, it was owned by a Mr & Mrs Moss. He was an ex-conservative MP.

Crown house
Crown house

There is evidence that back then, Crown House would have been a reasonable sized property. This is because Matthew appeared in a North Northamptonshire Poll Book in 1857. Only men who owned property or rented property with an annual rent above £10 were allowed to vote at that time. These rules effectively excluded most working-class men from voting as only 18% of the male population met these qualifications. This shows that Matthew must have been reasonably well off and would have probably been considered middle class.

The poll book not only listed everyone who was entitled to vote, but also who they voted for. Voting then was not secret and the poll book shows Matthew voted for the conservative George Ward Hunt. George won the election and later became Chancellor of the Exchequer in Benjamin Disraeli’s government.

When George presented his one and only budget speech to parliament, he discovered that he had left the ministerial “Red Box” containing the budget at home. This is said to be the start of the tradition that, when a Chancellor leaves for the House of Commons on budget day, he shows the assembled crowd the box by holding it aloft.

William Spencer and Ann Coleman

William was a son of Matthew and Dorothy and was christened in 1821 in Woodnewton. He married Ann Coleman in 1840. They had 3 children. Ann was christened in 1812 in Yarwell Northamptonshire. William and Ann later moved back to Elton where he also worked as a stonemason. He died in 1884 and Ann died in 1871.

In the 1851 census, Ann’s parents are living at a place called Perio Mill, about four miles west of Elton. The occupation of her father is shown as a paper maker. The former village of Perio was on the bank of the River Nene and was abandoned in the 16th century. But the mill continued to be used and during Henry’s time it was a paper mill where he worked. It later became a corn mill. The building still exists and is a grade 2 listed building. The site is currently occupied by some small businesses.

Perio Mill
Perio Mill circa 1890

William Spencer and Elizabeth Baxter

William was a son of William and Ann and was christened in 1841 in Woodnewton. He married Elizabeth Baxter. They had 8 children. Elizabeth was christened in 1846 in Thornhaugh Northamptonshire.

They left Elton and are shown in the 1871 census as living in Stamford. A later census shows them in Nottinghamshire in 1874 and then in Armley by 1877. It is believed that he came to work on the building of St Bartholomew’s church in Armley which was started in 1872. The census then shows him as a mason and bricklayer. He was living on Theaker Lane Armley when his son Wilfred was born. A little later he is shown in the 1888 Kelly’s directory as a stonemason living at 25, Pinfold Lane, Armley. He died in 1920 and Elizabeth died in 1888.

Wilfred Spencer and Henrietta Johnson

Wilfred was a son of William and Elizabeth and was christened in 1879 in Armley. He married Henrietta Johnson in 1898. They had 6 children. Henrietta was christened in 1877 in Holbeck Leeds. There is information about Henrietta on the Johnson page.

Wilfred worked as a builder. He had a mention in the Leeds Mercury in 1931. He won £100 on the Irish Sweepstake. This was a lottery system set up to finance Irish hospitals. Allowing for inflation, this is equivalent to about £7000 in 2020. Henrietta died in 1938, so Wilfred married again to Harriet Whitehead.

Wilfred died in 1965 of pneumonia and dementia.

Wilfred and Harriett Spencer
Wilfred with his second wife Harriett

These are the parents of grandad Bill Spencer so I have come to the end of the Spencer ancestors.