The Solicitor's Waste Bin

1. Family Notes, Funeral Expenses & Feudal Dues

The Bednall Archive 

Last updated 08/11/2007  


For some years, I have been collecting documents relating in some way to my family and local history interests.  Most of these documents came from the archives of local solicitors –May & Wain of Macclesfield, Challinor & Co. of Leek and Redfern of Leek- which were cleared out in the late 20th century.  Boxes of documents usually contain only a few items directly related to my key interests but many of the other items are interesting.  A great many of the documents I have examined are not “final documents” but drafts –sometimes 2nd or 3rd drafts- notes on scraps of paper, receipts and so on –items that were (and are) “from the solicitor’s waste bin”.  Perhaps I should have said “would have been from the solicitor’s waste bin had it not been for the inherent conservatism of the profession and the nagging doubt that it might one day be needed that caused the documents to be boxed, wrapped up or bagged and put away in an attic or outhouse.  Nowadays many would not exist since the shredder facilitates the destruction of paper documents and the practicalities of PC use mean that, generally, drafts of digital documents are rapidly deleted.  In future, therefore, this source of documents will not exist and what will be available is likely to have been very carefully filtered for the most part. 

My Solicitor’s Waste Bin contains many things of interest to local families not only with to directly genealogical interests i.e. relationships and life events, but also to their way of life (and death) and sometimes, even the way they spoke and wrote.  I’ve started to collect a few items together, which I hope will be of interest to others.  I will try to provide a fairly regular article covering one or two of the topics that come to mind for as long as they are found to be of interest (and my source provides sufficient documents).

Funeral Expenses

Funerals have been on my mind recently due to the recent death of my mother or at least that’s my excuse for looking at funeral bills again. The bills that I have range from a 2½ x 4 scrap of notepaper on which someone has written Ann Thompson’s funeral expenses to full statements of accounts for wealthier folk such as Miss Elizabeth Flint and Harriet Ridout.  

Figure 1.jpg (165284 bytes)Ann Thompson’s funeral expenses (undated) indicate most of the main items of expenditure –the coffin for the deceased, funeral cards to inform relatives and friends, mourning scarves and gloves for the immediate family and perhaps one or two others and meat and “groserys” for the reception afterwards (see Fig. 1).  The bill George Roylance of Macclesfield, “builder, wheelwright, smith and dealer in building materials”, submitted to the executors of the late John Day in 1910, is more detailed.  The deceased, who lived on Park Lane, Macclesfield, was dressed in a “fine flannel shroud” and placed on a “bed and pillows” in a polished coffin of “best selected English oak” with “special moulded and engraved plate and best brass mountings”.  A cortège of the “best hearse and 4 Broughams” carried the deceased and mourners to the church.  The cost of all this –including internment fees, the costs of an obituary notice in the Macclesfield Courier, memorial cards and invitations- was £18-3s-10d but may not cover all the costs of the funeral.  These costs alone amount to approximately seven times the average wage at the time and with the other details (in the bill and from the obituary) give an indication of the wealth and status of the late John Day

 John Hodgekins of Leek (probably) died 13 years before John Day and although less formal than Roylance’s bill, the simple list of Hodgekins “Debts and Funeral Expenses” is more informative about the involvement of many Leek trades people in the funeral of one man.  Adams & Sons provided the memorial cards, Thomas Morgan the coffin and Alfred Flower -cab proprietor of Queen Street, Leek- the hearse. Walter Ford carved the stone and C. Rogers was paid 6s for “work at the funeral” but what that involved isn’t stated. 

For the reception after the funeral, meat was provided by Bayley Brothers, butchers of 85 Mill Street, Leek, bread by John Magnier, wholesale confectioner, of 17 Derby Street and ale by J. Munro & Co. Others were also involved but in ways that were not specified precisely, for example, Andrew & James Morton, grocers, who provided “goods”.  Thus, many local tradesmen (and their families) benefited from a neighbour’s death.  In 1886, local (Leek) joiners W & J Nixon made widow Harriet Ridout’s coffin and builder Thomas Grace provided the “tombstone”.

 The latter information has been taken from a rather larger piece of solicitor’s waste- the official form which had to be filled in when applying for probate on any estate valued at more than £100 (1881).  These can be very useful documents since they give the date and place of death of the person concerned, the details and value of real and personal estate, whether or not they left “lawful issue surviving” and often lists of debtors or creditors in addition to funeral expenses.  Family relationships are also included sometimes and occasionally extra snippets of information such as in Harriet Ridout’s case when her executors stated, “the deceased had no household furniture etc of her own and her wearing apparel was of no saleable value”. Incidentally, the gross value of Harriet’s estate was £3315 in March 1886.

 More modern funeral bills (1960s) provide similar details sometimes giving an indication of the numbers of people for whom refreshments (teas) were provided after the ceremony, giving -in combination with an obituary- a fuller picture of this particular “life event”.

Funeral accounts may contain other pieces of information.  One such is that for Leek solicitor Frank Cruso, who died in September 1854, which in addition to the usual details tell us that he was buried in (or near) Chesterfield, probably in the vault of his wife’s family –the Milne-Smiths of Dunston Hall near Chesterfield.  Horses were hired in Macclesfield for this journey and the trustees’s costs were further increased by having to pay “the railway fares from Leek to Chesterfield of persons attending the funeral” and the cost of “special trains from Derby to Chesterfield and back”.  This document also has several pages of creditors and debtors names and trades. 

The Cruso’s of Leek are (by the way) descendants of a King’s Lynn family one of whose family first names was “Robinson” .


Feudal Fees and Bombazine

Figure 3.jpg (57074 bytes)   The list of funeral expenses of Leek farmer James Torr, who died in about 1874, illustrates the survival of feudalism in land tenure in the Leek area.  £5[1] (or approximately 16% of the £31 funeral bill) was demanded by Dryden Sneyd, Esquire, of Ashcombe Park, Cheddleton, as heriot in respect of Middlecliff Farm.  Heriots originated in the Saxon obligation on an heir to return the accoutrements of war supplied by the lord of the manor to a deceased tenant.   Under the Normans this changed to the practice of the heir giving the dead tenant’s best beast to the lord.  Eventually money was given instead and the heriot became a fee or charge on an estate, which is thought to have gone out of use, generally, by about 1825. However, other documents in my collection show that heriots were being levied, on property in Shelton, by the Manor of Newcastle-under-Lyme in 1866 so the Dryden Sneyd’s demands were by no means unusual in North Staffordshire. 

Information about the costs of funeral services, food and materials, church fees, etc. are the most obvious items that can be gleaned from funeral bills and accounts. For example, The 9s 6d (47½p) bill that James Barlow of Leek, sexton, sent to the Executors of Thomas Gascoyne in 1854, tells us that Gascoyne’s grave required “extra sinking” which cost 2s and that, in addition to his fee of 6s 6d, the sexton received an extra shilling for tolling the bell for one hour.  

The most comprehensive funeral accounts rescued from “The Solicitor’s Waste Bin” are those for Mrs. Mary Badnall (nee Challinor) of Spout Street (now St. Edwards Street), Leek, who died in January1838.  She was the widow of Leek’s leading silk dyer in 1830, Joseph Badnall of Mill Street, Leek and therefore reasonably well off. It was as well that she was. Despite her personal estate being declared below £1000 probate of her will alone cost just under £31 of which £22 was stamp duty!  The total bill for funeral expenses and probate was Approximately £115 or a sum equal to almost 3½ years wages for a millman working in Macclesfield silk mills (5½ years for a man working for Brocklehursts if the silk weavers’ pamphlet is to be believed[2])

Figure 4.jpg (56440 bytes)  Thomas Mellor’s bill for “hatbands, scarfs, etc.” was the second largest item on the funeral bill at £29-11s. -see Figure 2.  The details given on Mellor’s bill suggest that the group of family and friends who formed the principal mourners consisted of about 25 men, 12 to 18 women and 5 young children.  For those interested in the cost of things, kid leather gloves (for the all the men and 6 of the women) cost between and 2s 9d a pair (to 14p approx. in today’s currency); silk gloves a pair and small sized kid gloves for children.  Scarfs cost 3s to 3s 9d (15p to 19p). 

 Mrs Mary Badnall specifically asked that extra money be paid out to her servant Elizabeth Bennett “for mourning“.  The amount allocated was quite large £3-12s-7d (£3-63) and was spent on buying materials from milliner Hannah Birch of Stockwell Street, Leek which was made up into dresses by Miss Sarah Wardle, a milliner and dressmaker and Hannah Robinson, another milliner, both of whom lived on Spout Street, Leek.  Mrs Birch’s bill (see Figure) enables us to visualise Elizabeth Bennett’s plain black, bombazine, dress with its quilted lining and black ribbon decoration on the bodice and cuffs. The dress would have been full skirted and gathered in at the waist with a fairly tight fitting bodice. She would also have worn a black muslin fichu, a black bonnet with a veil and gloves.


 Miscellaneous Scraps

Solicitors obviously have to ensure -when settling estates- that they are transferring ownership of real estate, awarding legacies or paying annuities to the right people.  Challinor & Co’s  “waste bins” shows them to have been particularly careful to (where possible) cross check information provided by one member of a family with that provided by others or obtained from sources outside the family.  They also seem to have saved all the letters –some of which are just pencilled notes on small scraps of paper.  

They are often interesting not only because of genealogical information that they sometimes contain but also because of other information about the state of health of the writer, the lifestyle and in some cases the way he or she spoke.   I’ve picked one or two out more or less at random and give them verbatim below. 

From James Millward of 109 London Road, Sutton, Macclesfield to

Challinor & Co., Leek  17th June 1863 . 

Sir, I am in due recept of your letter this morning in answer my brother David & sister Sarah Ann Millward’s neice were married but my brother Joseph was married and had three children two dead & one living for anything that we know what I know is hearsey  Sargeant Charles Tuffley of Leek Told me he had joined the 35 Regiment Foot & gone to the East Indies with the Regiment his name is Joseph Millward the youngest of three born in Sept 1839 

Ann the eldest burned to death in the year 1839 

George died in 1839 both at Reddish Mills nr Stockport & were interred at Heaton Norris Stockport

 they were Both Burried after the Birth of Joseph the youngest & before the Death of their Farther Joseph Millward who died Dec 27th 1839 in Manchester fever ward.

Yours Truly  James Millward

 A pencil (solicitor’s) note opposite the text adds “The mother married again & Mr Tuffley said he knew she had one child”. 

This is one of the most interesting (of its kind) and I have one or two others from James containing further information for anyone interested.

Figure 5.jpg (74125 bytes)Sometimes information about sources of income is found on scraps of paper like the 4½” x 6½” piece shown in Figure which gives “yearly income of Geo Barlow of Longsdon “. It’s undated but probably dates from the early part of the 19th century.

Very often these small scraps raise questions as for example the  note from Charles Mears to “Mr Wain of Macclesfield” dated 6th March 1806, which said “Sir, Please to receave from Mr V. Royle 210 cheeses in good order and forward them to Stockport.”

 Others are almost totally inexplicable as for example a 3” x 2” piece of card on which is written

What instance have we as proof of Gelo’n’s humanity in his conditions with Carthage? Was it not a very mistaken idea of honouring their Gods by such barbarities? What were the sentiments of Plutarch on this subject?

 The only other marks on this card are the numbers 61 and (upside down) 7 –any thoughts on the subject are welcome, though, not being a classical scholar, I may not understand them. 

Figure 6.jpg (33565 bytes) Occasionally, sketches of family trees are found and I have one that shows (without dates or events) 3  generations of Thomas Sneyd Kynnersley’s descendants.  Such family trees may also be found on legal documents such as draft deeds of conveyance.  Extracts from baptismal, marriage and burial registers, provided by the vicar concerned are also to be found in the “Waste Bin” and one of the best of these is that tracing the family of William and Dorothy Hulme of Uttoxeter during the period 1742 to 1788.  Much more interesting though are the letters written by one Hulme to another in the 19th century, about their family history. 

As I picked up a draft “Case for the Opinion of Mr Mander –re Gosling deceased” from the box in which it lay a letter fell out. The black edged letter, dated 1st July 1862, was from Samuel F. Gosling of Biddulph near Congleton and was addressed to Thomas Redfern, a Leek solicitor.  It said  

“My dear sir,

For your guidance, I enclose the date of the deaths of several members of my family mentioned in my father’s will. 

My mother Elizabeth Gosling died



Father died



Children of the above



Francis Gosling died

24th March 1840

Aged 24 yrs

George C [Crichlow] Gosling died

25th June 1845

Aged 25 yrs

Thomas P [Pendleton]. Gosling died

12th March 1841

Aged 16 yrs

Sarah F [Francys] Gosling died

1st April 1856

Aged 32 yrs

Mary Ann Gosling died

29th Sept. 1846

Aged 18 yrs

Elizabeth C [Crichlow]. Gosling died

9th March 1862

Aged 31 yrs

 Yours faithfully        Samuel F. Gosling”

 On the reverse Samuel states (amongst other things) “I may say that all my brothers and sisters died without making any wills – except Elizabeth Crichlow Beales.”   The document from which the letter fell contains the will of George Crichlow Gosling of Biddulph, Staffordshire, iron founder, dated 23 October 1831, which mentions that he inherited his farm called Pethills –in Onecote, Leek- from his mother. The will (that of Samuel F. Gosling’s father) gives other details of his property and also tell us that his (George C. the elder’s) brother-in-law was Samuel Franceys of Liverpool, stationer.  

Comments on an individual’s character can also be found in “The Solicitor’s Waste Bin”. A letter from F.A. Morris Ltd, Manufacturers of Knitted Scarves & Ties, etc., Haywood Mill, Leek, dated 29th Sept.1936 states: 

“As employers of Edwin Lowe, we beg to state that he entered our employ, on the personal recommendation of his Headmaster, on leaving school in January 1931.


During the whole of the time he has been with us, there has not been the slightest cause for complaint in any direction, his duties at all times having been carried out conscientiously and to our entire satisfaction.


On many occasions of late, he has been left alone with access to all parts of the premises and the confidence placed in him has never been abused in any way.


We are quite willing for him to continue in our employ


For and on behalf of F.A.Morris Ltd    F.Turner –Director.”


“The Gentle Art of Bowls

More personal letters can give insights into family life –and death!  The following example is not local but this black edged letter is perhaps one of the most moving and the best. 

North Walsham

13th June 1858


My dear Harry,

It is with sorrowful feelings that I write to inform you of the death of your dear Grandfather he died on Friday night at Shepheard’s house where he was spending the evening. In nearly his usual health he had been playing Bowls well, and was having his rubber with Meades Storeys & W. Postles when he was taken ill & put to bed. Meade applied some remedies which appeared to revive him & no apprehension of death was entertained, but he expired without the least appearance of pain.  His death is a great loss to us & we shall miss his amiable heart & venerable head for many a day but you & I my boy may pray for a life as happy & a death as peaceful as his.

I have not heard much about your progress in reading lately & wish you all the pleasure you can fairly get in this life but don’t forget the main chance at your time of life it is hard work to hang on to the dry & dusty road, only persevering training can make it palatable & insure its rewards.

I have made a new Bowling green where I hope someday to see an “eminent practitioner” recreating himself & then we will recall to our own affectionate remembrance the aged friend who fist instructed us into the gentle art.

I do not know whether you are likely to get a holiday or to come into Norfolk but whenever the opportunity shall offer you may rely on a welcome from

Your affectionate Uncle



The funeral will take place about Friday or Saturday. I have petitioned the Secretary of State for the Home Department to allow my poor father to be buried in my dear mother’s grave in the Church which was a very earnest wish of his.”

 Another letter tell us that Harry was at Oxford. This letter is just as interesting as the one quoted in full but in other ways and I would certainly like to know more about the writer.


Considering all the bits of paper and other documents from “The Solicitor’s Waste Bin” that I’ve seen, I came to the conclusion long ago that much information useful to family (and local) historians, was being lost due a lack of appreciation of the potential of such material.  Overworked and under resourced (not simply under funded) county archivists called upon to look at solicitor’s archives before they are cleared out necessarily concentrate on what appears to be the most important items, particularly where the volume of material is great and their storage facilities limited. Unfortunately, many solicitors (and others who have documentary archives) dispose of them by either shredding them, sending them to the tip or burning them –as happened to Leicester City archives at the turn of the 20th century. Others simply destroy them by neglect e.g. storing 200 years' archives in a wet cellar.

Fortunately, the archives of Challinor & Co and Redfern of Leek and of May & Wain  of Macclesfield have, by and large, survived- partially in county record offices (Staffordshire has over 300 boxes of material from the Challinor & Co. archive) and partially in the hands of dealers and other individuals. The Bednall Collection is one of the latter.

My hope would be that solicitors and others wishing to clear out old documents would get in touch with both the local record office and the local family/local history society, before doing anything irrevocable with them. Failing that, it would be better for them to be sold to dealers than to be destroyed and the former may be in the solicitor’s financial interest.  In the latter case, however, some safeguards are needed to ensure that sensitive documents less than, say 50-70 years old (which aren’t likely to already be in the public domain) are not publicly available.  The Leek & Moorlands Historical Society has a collection of ex-solicitors documents and is buying more where they add significantly to knowledge of local history.  Like the Family History Society of Cheshire, it also accepts bequests of books and documents and all the collection is made available to researchers, on request. 

Remember, if you know anyone (particularly solicitors) who may be thinking of clearing out their archives –try to ensure they do the right thing –your history may be in their hands!!

[1] £5 was approximately 12 weeks wages for a farm labourer.

[2]  Troubled Times: Macclesfield 1790-1870 by Keith Austin, Churnet Valley Books, Leek 2001 page 70.