A couple of weeks ago, I was idly googling about my husband’s Martin ancestors from Norfolk who were millers or in mill management. Using the search terms “John Martin” and “mill” brought up a hit that was a bit of a shock, and opened up a whole new family branch that’s been waiting for me for years.
John Martin, my husband’s 4th great grandfather, was a comfortably well-off farmer in Norfolk, Great Britain. In the 1841 census for England and Wales, he was living in Barmer, Norfolk, listed as 30 year-old farmer (so born about 1811). His next door neighbors were Thomas Eagle, a miller, and his wife Sarah. I knew that John later named one of his sons Thomas Eagle Martin, so there was clearly a relationship between the households. By 1861 he owns a 300 acre farm in Barmer that employs 40 people. In the same year, Sarah Eagle was living in nearby Sculthorpe, now listed as the 80 year-old widow of a miller.
John’s origins were a bit of a mystery. On his second marriage record (he married twice, to sisters) he recorded his father as Ralph Martin. In several documents, he gave his birthplace as Rougham, Suffolk, but I was never able to find any Ralph Martin in the area around Rougham. The google hit cleared all this up…
In 2015, the Suffolk Institute of Archaelogy and History published an article in its proceedings entitled The Rougham Estate and Rougham Hall. In addition to interesting reading about building details regarding Rougham Hall (both the “old hall” and the “new”), the family histories of owners of the estate throughout history were given. And there was John Martin, farmer of Barmer, Norfolk, born in Rougham. His father wasn’t named Ralph Martin – that was a bit of a fib – it was actually the Reverend Ralph Kedinger, a Cambridge educated clergyman and wealthy landowner, whose family history has been documented back many hundreds of years. The reverend apparently carried on an affair with a local woman (he was in his 50s, while she was in her mid-20s). The lady in question gave birth to two children by Ralph Kedinger. The article recounts the circumstances :
“…in between his second and third wives he seems to have had a dalliance with Sarah Balls, a young woman from Bardwell. She was married off to a miller named Thomas Eagle in 1813 and in his will of 1818 Roger made sizeable bequests to the two ‘natural children’ of Sarah Eagle – £4000 to Sarah Martin (b. 1808) and £2000 to John Martin (b. 1810). The use of Martin as a surname for the children is not directly explained, but it was Roger’s mother’s maiden name. John went on to establish a successful farming family in Barmer, Norfolk, having 900 acres and employing 37 labourers by 1851.”
My husband’s mother’s maiden name was Martin. It now seems that it was somewhat a made up surname, to obscure the details of John Martin’s birth. With the bequest of 2000 pounds to John, it seems that Ralph Kedinger did in some way acknowledge his relationship to his son, at least financially. The 2000 pound inheritance in 1813 corresponds to about $180,000 today – not an overwhelming sum, but probably enough for a bright young man to establish himself with a successful farming business in mid-nineteenth century Britain. Interestingly, Ralph Kedington had only one child through marriage – a daughter Jane Judith born in 1775, who became the heir to his substantial estate.
John Martin seems to have had a good relationship with his mother Sarah and step-father Thomas Eagle. The Eagles followed John to Norfolk. In addition to John’s naming a son after Thomas, milling became something of a family business. John’s son John Daniel Martin owned a tower windmill in Sculthorpe, Suffolk until his death in 1882. John’s grandson Walter Martin (my husband’s great-grandfather) was involved in the milling business in a different way – he was the managing director of the Rio de Janeiro Flour Mills in Brazil in the early 1900s.
Finding a branch of the family tree that involves British landed gentry is a genealogist’s delight, because records have been kept on these families going back to William the Conqueror and beyond. A quick look at the Kedinger forebears has led to advisers who worked in the households of Henry VII and VIII, and knights who fought beside Henry V at Agincourt, among many other fascinating historic personalities. You never know what will pop up on google!
- Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History, The Rougham Estate and Rougham Hall by Sir George Agnew, James Bettley, and Edward Martin, Volume 43 Part 3, 2015; with many thanks to the authors who have been extremely responsive and helpful fleshing out the story of John Martin’s roots in Rougham!
- Landed Families of Britain and Ireland, (58) Agnew of Rougham Hall and Great Stanhope St., London, baronets, by Nicholas Kingsley, 2013
- Norfolk Mills, Sculthorpe Towermill, 2006
- ancestry.com, 1841 and 1861 Census of Britain and Wales