The Insalls of Chipping Norton


Thomas Holifield Insall was the founder of the Insall family in the United States.  But it was his grandfather, Thomas Insall (let’s call him the Elder), who founded the family in Chipping Norton, England (“CN”).   Remember that all info here is from court and church records and wills and other info obtained and transcribed by the CN history ladies, and is not research I did myself.

Thomas Insall the Elder was born in 1693, probably in Bourton-on-Water, another picturesque village in the Cotswolds’ area of England.  He was married three times, the first marriage of 1714 producing a son named Thomas (let’s call him the Younger).  Thomas the Elder is known to have been a salesman in 1721.  In 1722, Thomas the Elder leased and purchased on the upper High Street of Chipping Norton, a public house called “The Bear and Ragged Staff.”

On January 31, 1736 or 1737, Thomas the Elder married Dorothy Shortland, whose father was the innkeeper of the Crown & Cushion, a coaching inn next door to the Bear and Ragged Staff.  A coaching inn had much more status than a public house.  It would have catered to the clientele actually traveling by horse and carriage and provided lodging for the travelers with stables for the horses.

The High Street (American equivalent of a Main Street) sits toward the top of a hill.  Just down the hill sits the town square and parish church, called “St. Mary’s.”  In the town square is where the markets were held.  The word “Chipping” comes from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning “sale” or “sell”.  “Norton” means “north town”.  So towns with the word Chipping in the name are ancient market towns of England.  Markets in CN dealt mainly with sheep and the wool industry.  In medieval times, CN was quite wealthy.  Being one of the two coaching inns in an important market town, The Crown& Cushion would have been considered quite a well-to-do establishment.

In a legal arrangement with John Shortland, Dorothy’s father, Thomas Insall the Elder became the innkeeper of the Crown & Cushion and probably inherited the inn outright when Shortland died.  Five children were born to Thomas and Dorothy:

  • Hannah (Bpt. 19 Nov. 1737)
  • Ann (bpt. 25 Nov. 1739)
  • John (bpt. 11 Oct 1741)
  • Mary (bpt. 3 July 1743)
  • William (bpt. 8 Nov. 1745)
Daughter Mary is shown as being buried on June 11, 1745.

Thomas Insall the Elder apparently ran the Crown & Cushion until his death in 1763.  He was prominent enough in the town to be one of the jurors of Chipping Norton in 1742, 1746, 1747, 1749, 1756 and 1761.  Thomas the Elder was buried at CN on April 29, 1763, age 70.  His will was probated October 11, 1763.  Dorothy was buried later that year on December 15, 1763.

Thomas and Dorothy Insall’s daughter, Ann, was to become an important part of Chipping Norton history.  On June 17, 1758 at St. Mary’s Church, Ann married Thomas Bliss of Stroud, Gloucester, who was the founder of the Chipping Norton Tweed Mills.  Her descendent, William Bliss II, built the large Bliss Mill which was an important local employer.  (It is now converted into an apartment block, but is a dominant site on the local landscape -- more on it later.)

When he died, Thomas the Elder left the Crown & Cushion to his daughter, Hannah, and his oldest son, John.  Hannah remained unmarried and died in 1768.  Letters of Administration were granted to her brother, John, as next of kin (May 9, 1769).  So at that point, John was the sole owner of the Inn.  Thomas Insall the Younger (from a previous marriage) had apparently died prior to his father’s death.

William (our ancestor), as the younger son, was age 18 when Thomas the Elder died.  In the will, he was given an amount of three pounds sterling per year until he turned age 21, when he inherited 60 pounds.  This was a very decent amount at the time.

Also in his will, Thomas the Elder bequeathed to his widow, Dorothy, the rents from “The Bull (presumably another public house he owned); to his daughter, Ann Bliss, he left one guinea (since she was already well married); to his granddaughter Hester Farthings (daughter of his eldest son Thomas), he left five shillings.

John Insall next appears in the Enclosure Award of 1770.  He had applied for legal right to some common land in Chipping Norton.  He was awarded an allotment of seven acres, two roods and 26 perches between the Over Norton Road and the Cleeves.  (The Cleeves is a path running behind the parish church toward Over Norton – pointed out to us by the ladies of the historical society on our walk around CN).  The fact that his land became his legal property led to the naming of current –day Insall Road in Chipping Norton.

When brother John Insall inherited the Inn, he also inherited a cottage occupied by the Burborough rand, a piece of land called Berry Piece, a half yardland of arable land dispersed among the open fields of CN, which his father had purchased from Elizabeth Shortland and Thomas Gilkes.

Brother John Insall was quite well off at an early age.  In fact, so well of that he became the target of a robbery in 1764, the year after he inherited the Inn.  William Collwell, perhaps an employee of the Inn, was brought to court to answer as to the theft from John Insall of a large sum of money, a pair of silver buckles, a gold ring, and an ancient coin.  Collwell was ordered to be transported to one of the colonies.

Also in 1764, John Insall is listed as one of the “Homage” and was appointed one of the two Clerks of the Market.  He appears in the jury lists in 1764, which is the Grand Jury of Presentment, whose function was to report serious crimes to the justices assembled in Quarter Sessions. (Legal matters going to court each quarter).

In 1768, John Insall appeared in person at the Quarter Sessions in Oxford where three linen drapers of CN were bound to 20 pounds each to keep the peace with John Insall.  Called in as a witness was one Mary Thornton, spinster, whom John was to marry two years later.

On June 8, 1768, Hannah Insall, John’s sister and co-heiress of the Crown & Cushion, died.

Our ancestor, William Insall, was documented in 1768 as living in a newly constructed dwelling next to the Crown & Cushion at No. 22 High Street.  On October 30, 1768, he married Ann Biggerstaff.  The Biggerstaff name was evidently quite common and well known in CN.  This marriage produced nine children:
  • Elizabeth (bapt. July 29, 1774)
  • Ann (Bapt.  May 3, 1771)
  • Catherine (Bapt July 29, 1774)
  • Thomas Holifield (bapt. April 1, 1776)  -- *3 months before the Revolution in the US!
  • John (Bapt. March 12, 1779)
  • Mary (bapt April 21, 1780)
  • Sarah (Bapt. Jan 14, 1782)
  • William (bapt Sept. 19, 1784) and
  • Lydia (bapt. Aug 12, 1787)

Although John Insall inherited the Crown & Cushion, he also inherited a mortgage on the property between Thomas the Elder and one Robert Bradley, a gentleman of Chipping Norton, for $300.   In 1769, John mortgaged the property for a further $200 to Thomas Gilkes “to corroborate and strengthen” the mortgage and for securing “the repayment of the sum of $300 and interest.”  Financial difficulties had begun to plague John Insall.

On October 28, 1770, John Insall married Mary Thornton.  The marriage settlement for Mary would normally have been negotiated immediately prior to the marriage.  However, it was not concluded until December 22, 1772, more than two years later.  The property intended to provide Mary Insall with her rights of dower and thirds, should John Insall predecease her, was conveyed to two trustees – Thomas Rouse, victualler at CN, and John Smith, husbandman of Hook Norton.

At that time, it was evident that children were expected from the marriage.  However, no children were born, and the following year, on August 13, 1773, a new deed was drawn up.  John Insall designed his nephew, John Bliss, son of his sister, Ann bliss, to be heir to the property in default of children to John and Mary Insall.  John Bliss was age 13 at the time.  Had difficulties arisen between the brothers, John and William?

Neither William Insall nor any member of his family is mentioned in John Insall’s deeds, except as tenant of his cottage, and it may be that John considered that his brother, William, had married beneath him.  There are indications that William’s family did not live up to certain standards of respectability.

John Insall apparently slipped further into debt.  On June 16, 1778, he mortgaged two cottages – one in which his brother William had formerly lived, but in which John Insall was now living, to Robert Bradley for a further $100.  It is significant that John Insall is no longer living at the Crown & Cushion.

About this time, on May 14, 1778, John and Mary Insall terminated the agreement to make John Bliss the heir to their property and vested the property in Mary Insall.  Perhaps John did not want Mary encumbered with the Bliss family.  At any rate, John died six months later and was buried at CN on November 3, 1778, age 37.  (There is one small note on the information given to me that John’s will was provide on November 17, 1778, leaving to his wife Mary or Brother William or sister Ann Bliss. Does this mean that William would have inherited had Mary predeceased John?)

John’s widow Mary continued to be troubled by creditors.  On December 26, 1778, she advertised the Crown & Cushion for sale, together with the rest of her late husband’s landed estate.  The sale was postponed and Mary announced that she would continue to carry on the business of the Inn herself.  However, in 1779, the Inn was again put up for sale on behalf of Mary Insall, but the trustees, Thomas Mackarness and Thomas Rouse, appointed in her husband’s will.  The crown & Cushion was purchased by Giles Attwood, formerly the licensee of the White Hart at Broadway, and on November 24, 1779, Mary Insall was able to settle accounts with her late husband’s creditors in the crown & Cushion.

She remarried in 1780 to William Gibbs, a carrier.  They continued to live in the cottage once occupied by William Insall and a new settlement was drawn up on June 10, 1780 whereby Thomas Mackarness, the apothecary, held the two adjacent houses (no. 22 High Street, chipping Norton) as a marriage settlement for Mary Gibbs.  Three days later, the property was again mortgaged for $112.  By the end of 1781, it was evident that Gibbs was not maintaining payments at the cottages were put up for sale.  They owed $229 to Robert Bradley, an illiterate money lender of Chipping Norton.  The cottages sold for $250.  Deeds in 1782 brought an end to the association of the Shortland and Insall families with the properties in chipping Norton High Street.

William Insall continued to live in Chipping Norton.  Problems in his family involved an illegitimate son born to his eldest daughter, Elizabeth Insall (age 21) on August 214, 1790.  Also, on February 18, 1812, was the baptism of William Thomas Higgins, illegitimate son of Mary Insall, presumably William Insall’s daughter, who had been born in 1780.

In 1803, Thomas Holifield Insall possibly married a girl named Mary, who had given birth in 1801.  In the Quarter Sessions of 1803, William Fletcher, a cooper, and Isaac Fletcher of Charlbury, labourer, were bound in $10 each to answer for a child of Mary, wife of Thomas Insall of chipping Norton, laborer.  William Fletcher was probably the father of the child, with Isaac probably William Fletcher’s brother.  In these cases, one or more other were always “bound” to ensure that the accused did not abscond.

However, there is some confusion at this point. 
There is a Thomas, son of James and Sarah Insol, who was baptized at Bourton-on-the-Water, Glos, on July 17, 1774.  Also, a Thomas Insol married at Bourton-on-the-Water on May 15, 1803 to Mary Tye.  John, the son of Thomas and Mary Insall was baptized at Chipping Norton “from Bourton-on-the-Water’ on January 18, 1801, nearly two years before Thomas and Mary were married.  Mary Insall nee Tye was buried at CN on March 1, 1828.   There was no further record of Thomas Insall.

So the possibility exists that it was not our Thomas Holifield Insall who married Mary Tye with the illegitimate child.  However, another small handwritten note on the information given to me shows that Thomas Holifield married Mary “Bishop” and that they had John Insall, baptized January 18, 1801.  This John Insall went on to Mary Sarah Widdows on August 30, 1818.
William Insall is shown as being buried in Chipping Norton on April 10, 1818, age 73 years.  His occupation was listed as a baker in 1768. 


SO – one question arises is why does an Insall relative in today’s world believe that William Insall came to the U.S. via Nova Scotia?  If he travelled with his wife, Ann Biggerstaff, to America, why was she listed on the ship as Ann Biggerstaff and not Ann Insall?

Did Thomas Holifield marry earlier in life prior to the time he came to the U.S.?


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