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8 Feb 2012

1856 and all that

In 1856, George Nuttall died and his executor subsequently found (or wrote) two codicils, amending the will in his favour.  Surprisingly it took 38 years and 3 court cases for the truth to out; the witnesses having been probably bribed and lying most inconsistently.

As a naive young family historian in the 1990s I had no idea that what I held in my hand was a document from exactly the same year and town, and every bit as suspicious as the Nuttall codicil.

Joseph Carline had made his will in 1852: a grand old document, running to several pages, and sparing no detail.  He names several properties, including the meadow, the Willow Piece, which I found through tithe maps, and was able to visit, and photograph.

On the day of his death, we're invited to believe he reached for his pen again and wrote another will; without revoking the earlier document.  The date was December 1856.

From 1 January 1858, would-be forgers had to stand up in a civil court and were perhaps more thoroughly examined in matters probate - it no longer being a matter for the Bishop's officers.
Joseph had genuine grounds for changing his will - his daughter had died at Easter, but a simple codicil would have sufficed.  The second, badly drafted will, hints it being made by family members, perhaps at his direction.  He may have forgotten, on the day of his death, that matters were already resolved, and that is why the second document was passed down to me - when if valid, it should have been the one in the Bishop of Lichfield's hands, April 1857.

It was a big shock when I ordered Joseph's will, expecting a carbon copy of the later document, only to find this impressive earlier screed from 1852 being the one kept on file.  I personally think it's genuine, the later document, just ill-advised.  I particularly like the reference to a new house, clearly built in the last four years.  But he would have left four houses to a foppish 19 year-old distant grandson and nothing to family close by: certainly a mistake.

We only know about the document because its transcriber finally learnt to read and write in his twenties, because I wrote to ask him about it, and because I did so in the nineties - the thing having more lately got lost.  It's probable it won't turn up again, though I should dearly like to see it.

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