By Tony Wait
I often wonder how my 4xgreat aunt felt on her wedding day in 1828, as she walked up the aisle of the ancient church in the village of Molland, on the southern border of Exmoor. Ann Wait must have felt a world away from the grimy streets of Shoreditch, in London’s East End, where she had been born. Did her father escort her? This was her second marriage and as she gazed around the box pews, did she see any other members of her family that had managed to travel the 200 miles to see her?
Piecing back together the lives of my ancestors and those of my clients gives me great satisfaction and this particular historical journey is yet another example of how interesting it can be.
Ann was baptised in St. Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch on Christmas Day 1797. She was one of four children of John Wait (1765-1831) and Ann Wheatley (1766-1840). John seems to have been a reasonably successful carpenter and paid around 10 shillings a year for a property in New Inn Street. I even found him listed as a member of Freemasons at the Lodge of Good Intent in the Ship Tavern in Leadenhall Street.
How Ann met her first husband, William Bowden Quartly, will no doubt remain a mystery, although members of the Quartly family were living around Shoreditch and the Lambeth area at that time. But the couple were married at St George’s Church, Botolph Lane, in Billingsgate, Middlesex on 27th July 1820. Ann seems to have signed the register quite tentatively compared to the confident flourish of her new husband.
Quartly was described as a yeoman farmer and gentleman in the village of Molland, Devon. But sadly his marriage to Ann only lasted three years. He died at the beginning of 1823 and was buried in St. Mary’s graveyard, Molland on the 5th February of that year. His gravestone still stands and is legible.
In that short time, Ann and William had two children, Sarah Ann and William Bowden junior. Sarah later married Henry Weekes a former ship’s surgeon and William farmed 50 acres in Bickington, 20 miles from Molland, with his wife Anne.
So, five years later, on the 30 August 1828, Ann married William Gunn in the beautiful medieval church of St. Mary’s on a hill overlooking the picture-postcard village of Molland. Inside the church, she would have no doubt noticed the carved timber wall tablet above the squire’s pew, dedicated to members of the Quartly family – her previous husband’s family.
The 1841 Census shows Ann and William Gunn in Oakford near Tiverton, approximately 10 miles from Molland. William’s occupation is that of a school teacher and they now have a son, Frederick, born and baptised in Molland. Anne’s daughter Sarah Quartly is also living with them.
In 1851 Ann and William were living on their own. Ann’s daughter Sarah had married Henry Weekes in 1845 and Frederick was working as a chemist’s assistant in Middlesex. The census also gives Anne’s place of birth as Shoreditch and William’s in Rackenford, Devon.
The sad news of the death of Ann’s eldest brother William Valentine Wait in the early weeks of 1857 was probably delivered by the newly formed Penny Post. William was an unmarried barristers clerk from Marylebone in London. His last will reveals that he had made Ann is sole executrix and states:
“I give to my sister Ann Gunn the wife of Mr. Gunn of Oakford Bampton in the County of Devon, School-Master, five silver tablespoons, twelve teaspoons, four salt spoons, caddy spoon and sugar tongs and all other, my plate and plated articles and things except my plated castor stand”.
Ann and her husband were also beneficiaries of £200 a year from her brother’s life annuity, so they must have been fairly comfortable in their later years. This might have given them the financial incentive to move to Axminster, 40 miles from Oakford, where their son Frederick was a chemist.
Ann died in Axminster in 1867. She was buried in Axminster Cemetery and the memorial is still there (grave number 403). The inscription reads:
‘In affectionate remembrance of Ann wife of William Gunn. Died January 28th 1867. Also of the above named William Gunn who died March 21st 1870.’