Hannah More: the gaps in the early life

Hannah More's birthplace, Fishponds

Clifton Windsor Terrace, where Hannah More died in 1833

When I was researching for  Hannah More: the First Victorian (OUP, 2003), my biography of Wilberforce’s friend and the ‘honorary man’ of the Clapham Sect,  I was stumped, as her  other biographers have been, by the difficulty of filling in the gaps in her early life. A comparison of the humble schoolmaster’s cottage where she was born (left: Hannah, her parents and four sisters were squashed into the left-hand wing) and the elegant house in Clifton where she died (right) makes it clear that she was a remarkable example of late-Georgian social mobility. The later years are well-documented, but the early life far less so.

I looked at the parish records and local newspapers, Hannah More’s letters, and of course consulted earlier secondary works. However, thanks to a meticulously researched and ground-breaking article by William Evans of the University of the West of England, I now know that a lot of what I wrote was inaccurate.

For the full article see William Evans, ‘Hannah More’s Parents’, Transactions of the Bristol & Gloucestershire Archaeological Society 124 (2006), 113-30. This is my summary.

Hannah More’s father Jacob may be the Jacob More who was baptised in Norwich on 17 March 1699. There is no evidence that he attended Norwich Grammar School, as has frequently been asserted, but he may have been educated at a similar institution. The story that he lost money because of litigation over a large estate at Wenhaston cannot be corroborated. There was probably no such estate.

It has not been possible to corroborate the statement of More’s early biographer Henry Thompson that Jacob More was a supervisor of excise in Bristol as the records for the relevant period have nor survived. He may have held a post of which there is no longer a documentary trace, or perhaps a lower post than that of surveyor.

There is no trace in the local records of a Jacob More marrying a Mary Grace, previously believed to have been Hannah More’s mother. However in the records of St Werbergh’s church there is an entry for the marriage by licence on 2 July 1735 of Jacob More and Mary Linch.

The Gloucestershire Archives show that Jacob More was appointed master of the Fishponds school in 1743. The records show that he supplemented his meagre income by land surveying and valuing. In October 1751 Silas Blandford, land steward of the principal landowner, Norborne Berkeley, paid him for drawing a map of Kingswood. He was engaged in similar tasks in subsequent years. Hannah More always retained warm memories of Silas Blandford, whom she seems to have seen as a benevolent guardian of her family.

Jacob More’s tenure of the schoolmaster’s post at Fishponds ended in recriminations. The trustees kept poor records of the payments they made. In 1782, a time when Jacob would have long finished teaching, he was still receiving a salary and he and his wife continued to live in the schoolhouse. Jacob was meant to be paying a shilling a week to each of the two widows who lived in the other wing of the building, but he was paying it to only one. On 26 April 1783, shortly after Jacob’s death, his eldest daughter, Mary, by then a respected schoolmistress, wrote to the trustees of the school to defend her father from the charge of misappropriating the trust money. Her letter contained several inaccuracies, either innocent or intentional.

Evans has unearthed some intriguing information about Hannah More’s mother’s family. Mary Linch (Lynch) was baptised on 29 January 1718 at Stoke Gifford. The Lynches were an established family in the parish. In 1747 Mary’s sister Susannah married as her second husband  a carpenter, John Grace (so this is where the name Grace comes in!)  at Olveston, a parish five miles from Stoke Gifford, and gave birth to eight children. I note in my book Hannah More’s reference to the death of her ‘poor afflicted aunt’ in 1794. It is possible that Hannah More commissioned her memorial stone, a gesture she did not accord her parents.

These findings raise the intriguing question of why Hannah More, whether intentionally or not, obfuscated the details about her family.  By the time she was middle-aged, she was mixing with the gentry, the aristocracy, and even royalty. Perhaps she did not wish to be reminded too much that she was the daughter of a poor schoolmaster, who could not keep accounts and might even have defrauded a poor widow of the meagre sum that was owing to her.

15 thoughts on “Hannah More: the gaps in the early life

  1. Anne in your research of Hannah More have you by chance come across any mention of her mentioning her own painting activities in particular at Barley Wood (erroneously referred to as Barley Mow !) as opposed to Pickersgill painting her.

    • (In case this didn’t get to you first time!)
      Thanks for this query. No, I haven’t come across any mention of Hannah More’s painting activities and to the best of my knowledge, she didn’t do any painting. I’ve read lots and lots of her letters (though new ones keep cropping up that I haven’t seen) and haven’t come across a painting reference in any of them. It would be great if someone could fine evidence, so please let me know if you come across any. Best wishes, Anne

  2. I know that Hannah More taught at least one of the daughters of Dr George Horne DD and that one of his daughters Sarah known as Sally. She was highly thought of by that family, and many others. Sarah, George Horne’s youngest daughter (b.1777), was educated in Bristol, at the school run by Hannah More (1745-1833) and her sisters (Add.8134/A/3, pp.52-4; /K/1-5). She remained a friend of Miss More’s for many years (Add.8134/K/8-13) These letters there are copies at Cambridge University College. She was also very good friends with Ann Kennicott, wife of Benjamin Kennicott (4 April 1718 – 18 September 1783) churchman. So she definitely knew of a lot of well connected people of the times.

    • Yes, she certainly knew well-connected people and this might have made her especially careful not to reveal too much about her parents. I didn’t know about the letters in the Cambridge University Library (is this the library you mean?) so I’m grateful for the information.

      • Yes Anne, I do mean that one, it was many years ago, that I saw them, when I invited to Oxford by the then archivist, I went to both there and Cambridge the same day…. I did notice the other day there were some copies on line, copied. I think it was a Scottish website, many of her letters were on there. I will look to see if I have anymore mentioned in paperwork I have for you. I live in Australia and have been over there many times.
        Here is a link for you… if you look on the right… you can click on peoples names and lists of letters will come up… might be worth reading for tidbits of her… she was certainly a remarkable woman of the times…. really… I have not researched a lot on her, but there must have been something of the family for these daughters to get that opportunity of being able to learn… in those times.
        Regards Judy
        http://hannahmoreletters.co.uk/Letters/Book/Letters/0814.html

  3. That’s very interesting, Judy, and thanks for sending it to me. I’ll pass on the details to some people in Somerset who are busy on a big Hannah More project. I’m sure that if this is new to them (as it was to me!) they’ll be most interested!

  4. PS: I’m very dim. I see it’s part of the Strathclyde project, and it all looks very professional and informative. I haven’t worked on Hannah for several years now and I’m getting out of date. But the torch is being passed on!

  5. You are welcome, I was given a copy of Sarah’s diary years ago, and I was looking at it last night. She mentioned she was 9 years old when she went to school with Miss More. She was born the 24th July 1777 at Magdalen College, Oxford. The following is a snippet out of her diary… –
    From the diary of Sarah –

    At nine years old I went to Mrs More’s school at Bristol, where I remained 3 years- I was miserable when I left my friends, and I never reconciled myself to a school. I was a very odd little girl- full of little peculiar habits- not easily broken- careful- exact- independent- sitting alone- not agreeing with any long and preferring my own ways uninterrupted.
    I was religious- and thought a good deal for my age, recalled often what I had heard and read and had been told at home.
    I felt much pride in having such a father, and when governess read one of his sermons, the girls used to amuse themselves with looking at me- for I sat swelling with delight as governess read and praised the sermon.
    I was considered a little girl of honourable principals- told the truth without fear and cared not a fig for any person- my mind was much occupied with the heathen mythology- I had no feminine ideas- but mine were all on heroes and grand feats and I used to wish myself Hercules and Jason that I might astonish the world with my deeds- I learned very little at school- I was very idle and lazy- but I was a universal favourite and I have been surprised to hear from schoolfellows whom I have met late in life, how much I was beloved, for I cannot recollect any qualities which I possessed to deserve being so much like.
    (* I have been also told long since I quitted Mrs More’s by schoolfellow, that I was considered very religious at school)

    So that would have been about 1786 that she went there…

    Regards… if you want any more… let me know. Regards Judy

  6. Anne, the reason I am following Sarah Hole, is that my 2nd great grandmother always believed she was the granddaughter of Dr George Horne DD. This has always been the story in our family. This was written as part of her obituary in 1943, she was born in Australia and died in a little village in the middle of NSW.

    Mrs Harriet Amy Hyland (nee Horne)
    From time to time, the country press is called upon to chronicle the passing of those who came to this and other districts so early in the history of the continent as to have earned the title of pioneer. It is doubtful however, if many of them have such a strong claim to the title as the late Mrs Hyland, who was born in Picton, and after crossing the mountains with her husband at the age of nineteen, died at her home at Pinecliff on July 23rd, at the ripe old age of 95.

    Born in a family of ample means, the primitive conditions which prevailed at that time, must have appalled the young wife had she not possessed a courage which rose superior to all obstacles and carried her through a long and busy life, leaving behind her an honoured name, the affection of the countryside and eleven children, forty three grandchildren, seventy great- grandchildren and two great-great- grandchildren, one hundred and twenty six in all. Dowered with superb health, she defied the passing years, and up till within three weeks of her death, attended to all her home duties herself, and then quietly slipped away, retaining to the last keen intellect and a ripe experience of a life which ranged over a wider range than is permitted to most. The late Mrs Hyland was a grand-daughter of a distinguished cleric, Archbishop Horne of Canterbury, England.

    While the Obituary of Harriet said she was a granddaughter of an Archbishop Horne of Canterbury, there is no record of such an Archbishop…however there was a George Horne who was the 21st Dean of Canterbury, and later Bishop of Norwich. There is an Obituary in which he is credited with three daughters ; no sons. George Horne could have been a grandson only and there must have been a connection for Harriet to mention it on her death bed- but evidently in the wrong context- George Horne senior died 1792 and George Horne junior was born in 1796 and was not a son- this probably accounts for the reason for the matter not being known earlier- illegitimate, not regarded in those days with the complacency of these days.

    I have been researching this for many years, spending time at Canterbury, Magdalen College with archivists… visited Norwich Cathedral…. and talking to people everywhere.

    Sarah, never really wanted to marry…. yet this part was in the diary as well….. and with such a fast wedding organised with a man 14 years older than her… he 33 and she 19…. Diary notes- In the year 1796 circumstances occasioned a renewal of the friendship formed at Mrs More’s between myself & the Miss Holes’- A tour through the county of Devonshire & a visit of some weeks at Exeter led to the grand event of my life- after a very short acquaintance & a short courtship, I married Mr Hole- in November 1796. We passed 6 months with my Mother at Bush Hall after our marriage- And now behold me- after a fixed dislike to care & trouble & to all “domestic irksomenesses”- behold me at 19 involved in them all- & just as fir to manage a house as an infant!

    I am wondering if she might have fallen pregnant and the something organised with our George Horne born c1796. Our George was sent out as a convict for having a forged pound note on him in 1819, yet he was under the care of Reverend Samuel Marsden, (whom you can google, a big history in Australia, etc here.)… George taught Samuel’s grandchildren their schooling, the year after his arrival in the colony George was recorded as teaching at Pennant Hills Establishment and as conducting Devine services. So it is all very suspicious of it actually being possible…. convicts were not treated like he was. And Samuel Marsden… was sent to Magalen College through Wilberforce….. it is possible that he knew who my George was…. https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/marsden-samuel-2433

    I have never been to Bristol, to be able to find out if there are any baptisms recorded for a George…. he would have had to be baptised somewhere… but I have never found it…..

    Sorry for going off track… but I have always wondered if Hannah More and her sisters, might have helped finding a home for George…

    Regards Judy

  7. I think one of my posts with more of Hannah, as disappeared…. I did post. Can you please let me know if there was 2 tonight….

  8. I will just repost this Anne,

    As to dissipation- it was very great at the period of which I am writing- Lady Juliana Perrin used to take her daughter to 6 or 7 balls in one evening- Sunday parties were general & crowded. No person noticed these things publicly till Hannah More burst on the great world with her “Thoughts on their Manners” a liberty thought incredible – & I have heard my Mother say, the sensations caused by it was wonderful. The Bishop of London’s Lectures during Lent & his attempts to repress all parties on Sundays- were the first of the sort- & much good was produced- When we consider the vast quantity of works are the subject now, & all that has been said & done- we shall see how differently matters went on, when two persons raised the gay world from its dream, & occasioned so much astonishment & conversation- The Bishops of London & Durham were ridiculed in every way, for having the Opera closed before Sunday morning, & Bishop sleeves were represented as placed before the dancers in the most ludicrous style- The general opinion was, that it was very ridiculous in them to interfere. There was much coldness & attention in religious affairs- See my Mothers excellent papers on the neglect of the service in country churches- in the Olla Podride. (* Wilberforce’s work on Christianity produced great effect & such benefit on the great)
    Could such a thing now happen as that which occur’d at Stoke church? That in a neighbourhood of Nobility- The little church at Stoke was so poorly clothed- that an old pewter plate & a basin like Don Quixote’s barber, went round on the sacrament days to all the Lords & Ladies, & tho’ my Father lifted up his voice fro time to time, to beseech. They would join & do away such disgraceful sights in God’s house- he preached in vain- not a farthing did they give, & my Grandmother Betsy & my Mother, the two most humble & heartsick of the gentry- at last, presented a silver cup & plate & a cloth for the table! Again- think of the range of country by the Mendip Hills, where God was not known- no church- no minister- What scenes I have heard described by Hannah & Martha More, upon all religious matters! The astonishment of some old people at hearing of a Saviour! How I wish I had made notes of the many curious things which I heard & saw, with Hannah More at Cowslip Green- And yet Bishop Moss disapproved of what Hannah did there- & expressed neither anxiety nor surprise that such things were under his nose! There is a stir now, indeed, & much there waited one!

  9. As to dissipation- it was very great at the period of which I am writing- Lady Juliana Perrin used to take her daughter to 6 or 7 balls in one evening- Sunday parties were general & crowded. No person noticed these things publicly till Hannah More burst on the great world with her “Thoughts on their Manners” a liberty thought incredible – & I have heard my Mother say, the sensations caused by it was wonderful. The Bishop of London’s Lectures during Lent & his attempts to repress all parties on Sundays- were the first of the sort- & much good was produced- When we consider the vast quantity of works are the subject now, & all that has been said & done- we shall see how differently matters went on, when two persons raised the gay world from its dream, & occasioned so much astonishment & conversation- The Bishops of London & Durham were ridiculed in every way, for having the Opera closed before Sunday morning, & Bishop sleeves were represented as placed before the dancers in the most ludicrous style- The general opinion was, that it was very ridiculous in them to interfere. There was much coldness & attention in religious affairs- See my Mothers excellent papers on the neglect of the service in country churches- in the Olla Podride. (* Wilberforce’s work on Christianity produced great effect & such benefit on the great)
    Could such a thing now happen as that which occur’d at Stoke church? That in a neighbourhood of Nobility- The little church at Stoke was so poorly clothed- that an old pewter plate & a basin like Don Quixote’s barber, went round on the sacrament days to all the Lords & Ladies, & tho’ my Father lifted up his voice fro time to time, to beseech. They would join & do away such disgraceful sights in God’s house- he preached in vain- not a farthing did they give, & my Grandmother Betsy & my Mother, the two most humble & heartsick of the gentry- at last, presented a silver cup & plate & a cloth for the table! Again- think of the range of country by the Mendip Hills, where God was not known- no church- no minister- What scenes I have heard described by Hannah & Martha More, upon all religious matters! The astonishment of some old people at hearing of a Saviour! How I wish I had made notes of the many curious things which I heard & saw, with Hannah More at Cowslip Green- And yet Bishop Moss disapproved of what Hannah did there- & expressed neither anxiety nor surprise that such things were under his nose! There is a stir now, indeed, & much there waited one!

  10. Yes, you did send it – it came to me twice! Lots of good stuff here, so thanks again. I think Lady Juliana Perrin must be Lady Juliana Penn, who was a friends of Hannah’s.

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