Month: April 2019

Wild Weekend Theory

Getting a Richard Sainsbury from Wiltshire to Portbury

Portbury and the Gordano valley of Somerset is rather isolated, the villages in the area are very small, and the economic opportunities would have been limited in the mid-18th century. It’s therefore an odd location for someone from 40 or so miles away in Wiltshire (where all our matches point so far) to just “appear” as does our Richard Sain(t)sbury in 1745. 

What prompted his migration? Was he accompanied by friends or family members? What or who offered him the prospect or guarantee of employment that would cause him to relocate from wherever he originated? (Which, when we look at our DNA matches, could have been the Heytesbury area, Potterne, Eastcott in the parish of Urchfont, or elsewhere.)

In 1719, when Richard Sainsbury of Urchfont was 12 years old, his father died leaving his mother (Elizabeth Wilkins, bap. abt. 1672 West Lavington) with an unpaid debt owed to Dame Mary Whetstone of Bristol.

As near as I can tell, Dame Whetstone sued for repayment or possession of the family’s property in Eastcott. I’ve got a digital copy of those documents and have been slowly transcribing them.

The case involved a loan originally made to John Sainsbury (Richard’s father) by widow Anne Goldney of Chippenham in 1700. IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT THIS WILD THEORY: KEEP THE NAME GOLDNEY IN MIND. In 1709 Anne “gifted” this debt to her daughter, Sarah.

Also in 1709, Sarah married Edward Thornhill of Bristol and Edward called the loan. This prompted John Sainsbury to refinance with another lender (William Jackson of Bristol) so he could repay Edward and Sarah Thornhill.

After at least one other refinance to pay back William Jackson (and in each case the amount John Sainsbury borrowed increased) the debt ended up in a court case with Dame Mary Whetstone suing for the unpaid balance or for possession of the Sainsbury property in the parish of Urchfont (which, in widow Elizabeth’s reply, was worth almost nothing).

To return to the original loan made in 1700–what connected John Sainsbury to the Goldney family in the first place to make this transaction possible? The Goldneys later became an important merchant banking family with branches in Chippenham and Bristol. But at this early date in the family’s money-lending history, was the original loan merely a commercial exchange? Or was there some family or social connection between the Goldney and Sainsbury families that made the loan possible?

In any case, the original loan was repaid when requested (through refinancing, but repaid nonetheless) so any relationship between these families would not have been severed by that deal having soured.

Fast forward to the UK Land Redemption tax of 1798 and let’s see who the landowners were in Clapton in Gordano — a very tiny village in a very isolated part of Somerset (current population: 348; population in 1851: 161; population in the mid- to late-18th century when Richard Sainsbury was starting his family: even smaller?). 

In descending order of assessed amount, the proprietors of Clapton in Gordano in the late 18th century were:

  • Revd Robt Ready (29 pounds)
  • Revd W (or Mr) Y Coker (14 pounds)
  • Gabriel Goldney Esq (11 pounds)
  • Revd Henry Still (8 pounds)
  • Mr Wm Vowles (8 pounds)
  • Thos Stretton Esq (6 pounds)
  • Revd Jno Berjeu (5 pounds)
  • Mr Geo Alves (5 pounds)
  • Ditto (5 pounds)
  • Mr Rd Lewis (2 pounds)
  • Mr Josh Love (2 pounds)
  • Mr W Parsley (1 pound)
  • Mr Josh Rowles (1 pound)
  • late Godn Stanbury (1 pound)
  • late Mr Sparks (1 pound)
  • Revd Robt Ready (1 pound)
  • Mr Saml Parnell (1 pound)
  • late Mr Savill (1 pound)

So now we get to the Wild Theory of the Weekend part of this story.

Gabriel Goldney, one of the largest landowners in 18th-century Clapton in Gordano, was based in Bristol and managed a family empire which, by that time, had grown very large. He was also a direct descendant of Anne Goldney, original lender to John Sainsbury of Urchfont. 

If the original Goldney-Sainsbury loan had been based on more than just commerce — i.e., if there had been some social connection between the two families — the wealthy Goldneys would have been in a position to help out the widow Elizabeth Sainsbury, left in debt with four young sons and a daughter. (Two other daughters were married by this time.)

Did the Goldneys help by providing some opportunity for Elizabeth’s son Richard? And if so, did that aid include some sort of employment or apprenticeship for Richard with the family in Chippenham?

Once this Wild Weekend theory places “our” Richard in Chippenham, it opens up Wild Weekend Theory #2. So here we go.

Richard named his third son Richard Billet. Billet is a very common surname in the Chippenham area, but a very rare (possibly unknown) name in the area around Portbury. But the parish records of Billet family members in Chippenham in the mid-18th century include a 50-year-old Richard Billet, a Quaker (like the Goldneys, incidentally) who died in Chippenham in March 1748. 

Had this Richard Billet been a colleague of Richard Sainsbury during his theoretical time in Chippenham working with or for the Goldney family? And did Richard Sainsbury therefore name his third son in that man’s honour?

To return to the Goldney-owned lands in Clapton in Gordano. I don’t know when they acquired those lands or why. But Wild Weekend Theory takes this hypothetical position, which would have to be tested by some quite sophisticated archival research:

  • the Goldney family had economic interests in the Clapton in Gordano by the mid-18th century, perhaps as part of the area’s coal mining operations;
  • they had already provided opportunity or employment in Chippenham to Richard Sainsbury of Eastcott after his father’s death in 1719 left his mother in debt and unable to support her 5 children;
  • at some point before 1745, they provided new employment for Richard as part of their land ownership or industrial operations in Clapton in Gordano, which explains his migration from Wiltshire to that part of Somerset;
  • while in Chippenham, through the Goldneys’ connections among that town’s Quaker community, Richard had dealings with a Richard Billet (approx. 10 years his senior) which led, on the latter’s death, to Richard naming his third son Richard Billet Sainsbury.

So that’s it. Wild Weekend Theory. Based solely on the fact (coincidence?) that Anne Goldney made a loan in 1700 to a Sainsbury family that included a son, Richard, and Anne Goldney also had a grandson (or great grandson) who owned land in the village where “our” Richard Sainsbury started his family in the mid-18th century. 

Whew. Well, it’s a change from mysterious DNA matches and low centimorgans, right? 

For further reading

The Goldney Family: A Bristol Merchant Dynasty. URL:

Capital Investment in a Regional Economy: Some 
Aspects of the Sources and Employment of Capital in North Somerset, 1750-1830. URL:

Goldney Family Papers (University of Bristol Special Collections). URL:

Disclaimer: As with any research project, when new evidence comes to light, former theories may change. This blog post includes theories and conclusions developed from the best available evidence at the time this post was written. It may be corroborated or refuted by later research. This post must therefore be considered in the context of all information presented in earlier and later posts.