William (Trask) CHRISTOPHER (1741-1785)
Agricultural Labourer Cheselbourne

©Compiled by Michael Russell OPC for Fordington October 2012 (Last updated October 2013)

Link to House of CHRISTOPHER Master File

View of Cheselbourne from St Martin's Churchyard
© Picture Copyright Miss Steel and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence.

Birth at Cheselbourne - 1741

William Trask CHRISTOPHER was baptised on the 12th July 1741 at St Martin's Church in Cheselbourne in Dorset and his ancestry, circumstances surrounding his birth, and early childhood have already been covered and can be accessed via the link provided. After birth he was simply known as William Christopher. We know from poor law records that early in December 1761 at the age of 20 he permanently left Cheselbourne and traveled to Fordington. It seems likely that this move was promulgated by John CHRISTOPHER (1734-1804) who had arrived in Cheselbourne by 1759 and settled in the parish by marrying the young widow Elizabeth TRASK in August 1760.

No doubt like most young men William was anxious to cut the apron strings, see a bit of the outside world and establish his own independence. There were a number of family events which probably drew John, and perhaps even Joan and her family, to visit Fordington around this time. John's elder brother James for example married in 1758 and their first child Mary was baptised at Fordington in June 1759. It seems likely that William would have been familiar with Fordington and his extended family from visits of this kind. Indeed John's parents and siblings probably attended his own wedding in Cheselbourne in 1760. We know for certain that John was present in Fordington in June 1761 when he was released from his contract to serve for 3 years in the Militia as he now had a large family (having acquired 3 step children on marriage) and the following month Elizabeth gave birth to the first of their own children. So with not only John Christopher at hand but also the support of Elizabeth and the extended Trask Family in Cheselbourne, William could seek more lucrative work elsewhere with a clear conscience knowing that his mother and sister had support at hand. Fordington was also a safe bet from Joan's point of view given that John's father and family still lived in Fordington and they would no doubt have provided a ready place to live whilst he sought work as an agricultural labourer at the Fordington hiring fair.
Arrival at Fordington - December 1761

Fordington is an unusual parish as it surrounds the town of Dorchester on three sides. Fordington village is at one end of Dorchester High Street, with Fordington Barracks at the other end. It sits on the old Roman Road from Weymouth right at the junction for the roads to Exeter, Sherborne, Wareham and London. Most of the old roman wall had already been leveled providing the tree lined 'Walks' around the town which can clearly be seen on the 1771 map of Dorchester. Dorchester has held a charter for a market since the year 979,and Fordington for a market and fair since 1355, so by 1761 they had for centuries been the centre of commerce for the surrounding villages. Farmers for example would hire labourers at the fair for the coming season and it is therefore a logical place for William Christopher to go to find work and at 8 miles within easy walking distance by standards of the day.

The law also required that each village provide its quota of men to serve for 3 years in the Dorset Militia. The village tithingman had to list all men between the ages of 18 and 45 in the village and indicate whether they were married, the number of live children they had to support, and give their height. In Dorchester & Fordington those men with a wife and 2 or more children were then excluded from the public ballot as were men considered to be unfit. Appeals against selection from all the surrounding villages were traditionally heard at the 'Antelope Inn' in Dorchester's South Street. For those better off who had been selected to serve it was possible to put forward a substitute at these hearings, so a thriving trade grew up around fit young men volunteering to serve in their stead in exchange for a fee. We know John Christopher had done this from the Militia hearing held at the Antelope on 27th June 1761 when records show that he was released from his contract, but had to repay the £10 fee he had been paid. On top of all this activity the Regiments of Dragoons stationed at the barracks increased demand for food and all manner of other goods creating a hive of industry, quite a contrast from the quite backwaters of Cheselbourne.

Much has changed since those days and it is difficult to imagine what it was like then. Some insight to what Fordington and much of the surrounding area was like before modern day expansion can be obtained from sketches done by the watercolour artist Henry Joseph Moule (1825-1904). Although he painted from an early age these were probably done in the years following his return from Scotland in 1877. This gives a very different impression from the quaint terraced housing we see in Fordington today.

Watercolours by Henry Joseph Moule
[by kind permission of the Dorset County Museum]

The picture in the centre is Fordington High Street running from left to right in front of the terraced thatched houses.
St Georges Church would be to the right at the top of the hill, and Dorchester at the bottom to the left.
The view is from Salisbury Field which still exists as a park as it was retained for public use in 1892.

The picture far right is of nearby Stinsford where they were to marry

Although painted over 100 years after William Trask Christopher arrived here in 1761 it probably had not changed that much in character. Whilst at Fordington William met his future wife Elizabeth DARK. She came from Stinsford a small village only a mile or so further along the London road towards Blandford and a village William would have passed through on his way to and from Cheselbourne.

Marriage of William CHRISTOPHER to Betty DARK
at St Michael's Church Stinsford - 1762

View of St Michael's Church with the graves of Thomas Hardy & his family in the foreground
© Picture Copyright Eugene Birchell and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence.

William & Elizabeth were married after banns had been read on 3 consecutive Sundays in her parish church of St Michael at Stinsford on 25th January 1762 by the vicar of Stinsford Rev John Randall.

As can be seen from the copy of their marriage registration (shown left) William, is clearly described as being from the parish of Cheselbourne and has just reached his age of majority. Elizabeth DART (1744-1830) , recorded as Betty a coloquial form of the name on the certificate, was the third of four children from the marriage of William DART to Sarah PERHAM [recorded as PEDHAM] at Stinsford in 1737 and was baptised at Fordington where the family lived on 29th April 1744 so she was just over 18 when she married. She uses both Elizabeth and Betty throughout her life. On the baptism of her children she is recorded as Elizabeth but when she makes her mark as a witness at the wedding of her son George many years later she is recorded as Betty.

Elizabeth's younger brother James DART (1751-1791) is also tied into the Christopher family when he marries at Fordington to Mary the eldest daughter of James & Holloway Christopher. Mary is Williams Cousin once removed and the grandaughter of Charles CHRISTOPHER (1705-1791).

Much of the church of St Michael remains unchanged since 1762. The chancel, north and south arcade of the nave are early 13th century, whilst the west tower was added early in the 14th. The west wall of the south aisle was rebuilt at this time; the rest being mainly 15th century. The north aisle was rebuilt in 1630 and considerably altered in the 19th century. St Michael's is revered today as the place where Thomas Hardy's heart is buried, his body lying in Westminster Abbey. Both his parents, his sister and two wives are also in the churchyard. Stinsford was the fictional "Mellstock" in "Under the Greenwood Tree and much of the novel is based on life in the parish. His novel 'The Mayor of Casterbridge' was based on life in Dorchester

Baptism of Sarah CHRISTOPHER - 1762

William & Elizabeth's first child was a girl and she was born 11 months after their marriage and duly baptised in St Michael's Church at Stinsford as Sarah CHRISTOPHER on 5th December 1762.

    The 16th century font ( picture left (1)) that she was baptised in, is a handsome marble vase, and was presented to the church circa 1730-40 so it was the same font used 100 years later for the baptism of the famous author Thomas Hardy.
    Sarah CHRISTOPHER (1762-1840). After baptism Sarah moved several times with her parents until they arrived at Lytchett Minister in Dorset in 1781 when she was 19 years old. There she met James FANCY (1764-1850) the son of Henry FANCY junior by his wife Jean ABBOTT. James was baptised at Lytchett Minister on 25th November 1764 so was two years her junior. They married in the church at Lytchett Minster on 23rd September 1783(2) and had 11 children baptised in the parish between 1785 and 1806. From the militia records taken in 1798 we know that he was an agricultural labourer and 5 feet 9 inches tall when he was exempted from service because he was poor and had 6 children to support (3).

    James must have prospered however as he became a farmer and is shown in the Land Apportionment Map of 1838 for Lytchett Minster as the occupier of 5 plots of land totaling about 26 acres(4) held by the trustees of the estate of Sir John WEBB Baronet. One of the trustees of the estate was William de Mauley. Through him James Fancy changed farm (prior to 1843) to manage a more substantial holding of 167 acres, just the other side of the river abutting Lower Lytchett in St Martins Parish Wareham(5). Although just over the parish boundary it is actually slightly closer to the center of Lytchett Minister. I can't see a house located on any of the land (although it does refer to a small private garden) so they may have lived throughout this period in Lytchett. Sarah lived until she was 78 being buried at Lytchett Minister Church on 29th March 1840. James died at the age of 85 and was buried with her on 16 December 1850.
William & Elizabeth had 8 or 9 children in all. We are not sure because we still have a eight year gap in our knowledge during which time its clear they had two or three more children. They appear to have left Stinsford around 1763 and one reason may have been that there was an outbreak of smallpox in the village towards the end of that year which had killed 9 people by May the following year.
The missing years - 1763-1771

Annoyingly we have not managed so far to find out where the family went to between 1763 and 1771 and therefore lack baptism records to properly establish descent but I am sure they had more children during this period and there is evidence to suggest that at least James was one of their children born during this period.
    James CHRISTOPHER (1764-1847) An agricultural labourer who married twice and had his son Reuben christened on the same day with his brother George's son Henry Christopher who was my 3x great grandfather. His step daughter Isabella married George's eldest son William Christopher. The two brothers often lived in the same parish and James raised his family and was buried at Morden where his father William Trask Christopher was laid to rest.
We would also expect him to have named a son William after himself and there are several likely candidates but conclusively proving lineage is difficult so I will concentrate upon his other known children.
Baptism of George CHRISTOPHER - Cheselbourne 1772

Cheselbourne Font © Miss Steel - 2008 - licenced for reuse under the creative commons licence

The next documentary evidence that we can find about the family is the baptism of their son George Christopher which took place back in his fathers’ home parish of Cheselbourne (Link to more pictures of inside the church). It is still not clear exactly when George was born which may have been in the previous year (6) but he, like his father, was baptised in the above font in St Martins Church on 10 April 1772. His grandmother Joan Christopher would undoubtedly have attended the ceremony which was conducted by Rev. Giles Templeman who had been Rector there for over 20 years. As it progressed she must have reflected upon her own son’s baptism ceremony 30 years earlier and taken some satisfaction from having so many family members present. Apart from her son William, his wife Elizabeth and George's earlier siblings, John CHRISTOPHER ( 1734-1804) would have been there with his wife Elizabeth Trask and his own 2 surviving children by her. In such a small village its likely that other members of the Trask family would have been there as well if only some of John's step children as we know Mary Trask was still living with them at this date. I also like to think that her daughter Jenny (Jane) BUTT would have taken the opportunity to travel the 5 miles from Winterbourne Clenson back to Cheselbourne to see her mother and brothers family all gathered together in the church accompanied by her husband and 2 children.
    George CHRISTOPHER (1772-1843). George was my 5x great grandfather so I will produce a more detailed account of his life in due course. Suffice it to say that as soon as he was old enough he started labouring in the fields around where they lived and on 22nd Feb 1797 he married at the age of 25 to Jane DOREY (1776-1859) in Lady St Mary's church in Wareham. His father having died in 1785 his mother Elizabeth (Betty) was one of the two witnesses. Jane had just reached her age of majority and was the 5th child of Lawrence DOREY by his wife Mary (nee SNELLING) and a native of West Lulworth (7). Over the next 30 years they managed to produce a family of 13 children and must have been doing something right as unusually all but one of these survived well into adulthood.

    After their first two children were baptised at Wareham George worked as an agricultural labourer and lived in the small area surrounding Lytchett Minster and Morden until 1826 when reducing wages forced George to take the monumental decision to leave Dorset with most of his family. This included the family of his eldest son William who was married by then with 3 children. They headed to London where there were better prospects and wages for those who laboured to produce food for the ever expanding population of London. Settling initially at Hayes in Middlesex and working in the market gardens alongside the Grand Union Canal (the main actuary into London from Oxford at that date) they fortuitously found themselves ideally placed to take advantage of the expansion (or more correctly described as the explosion) in railway building which started in the late 1830's. As a consequence most of his children worked for Brunel on the construction of the Great Western Railway as it passed through on its way to Paddington Station which opened in 1838. From there several of his children progressed to building the Eastern Railway line that stretched out from London through Essex to Chelmsford and Bury St Edmunds. Eventually, several generations later, this resulted in my own birth in Essex. I will leave this account however to the story surrounding Georges' life.

    The death of George's mother Elizabeth/Betty CHRISTOPHER in 1830 seems to have prompted George and Jane's eldest son William CHRISTOPHER (1800-1853) to return to Dorset with his wife and six children. George's wife, Jane, sickened and died at Isleworth at the age of 59 being buried there on 17th March 1835 and this seems to have prompted George to return as well. He took with him his youngest son Richard and settled back in Lytchett Minister living with his son William and his family. The draw back to Lytchett for George may have been the growing prosperity of his brother-in-law James FANCY (as described above) and its possible that his son William was already being employed on James farm. The fact is that George was also getting older and its natural to turn to your eldest children for support in your later years. Coincidentally the management of the poor changed at this time with workhouses being amalgamated into larger units. The Poole Poor Law Union was formed on 2nd October 1835 and the new workhouse was erected in 1838/9 at Longfleet. In the early 1840's George contracted Jaundice and at some point was transferred to the infirmary at Longfleet where he died of Biliary disease on 29th May 1843 when his age was given as being 78. The bodies of people who died in the workhouse were often returned to their parish of settlement for burial close to their family. I have not so far however located a burial at either Longfleet or Lytchett Minster.

Birth of their last four children (1775-1785)

By 1775 William & Elizabeth had returned with their family to live and work at Wareham settling in Lady St Mary's Parish where their next son Henry CHRISTOPHER was baptised on 15th Oct 1775. Unfortunately we have not been able to find out anything else about him. Over the following decade William worked as an agricultural labourer wherever he could get work so the family moved with him. Often a small cottage would be made available to labourers hired at the annual fair. Betty CHRISTOPHER was the next child to arrive and she was baptised at St Martins Church in Wareham on 5th July 1778. They had moved again however by the time Robert CHRISTOPHER was born as he was baptised at Lytchett Minster on 21st January 1781. Betty only lived until she was 6 years old and they were back in Wareham in Lady St Mary's Parish when she was buried in the churchyard on 13th June 1784. Less than a year later they were in Morden for the baptism of their last child Charles CHRISTOPHER which took place on 22nd May 1785.
Death of William (Trask) CHRISTOPHER (August 1785)

Only six weeks after the celebration of the baptism of Charles, tragedy struck the family when William CHRISTOPHER suddenly contracted smallpox. With this disease there is a 10 to 16 day incubation period during which the patient may not complain. The invasion to the system is then sudden and severe peaking at around 12 days so they would have been sure he had smallpox sometime in July 1785 and he was probably fit up to the end of June. With such a dangerous disease the Churchwardens and Overseers of the Poor for Morden had to take action to protect the other inhabitants so he was immediately isolated in the village smallpox house which would have been an unused property on the edge of the village. This sytem of isolation was practiced by many if not most village communities but the villagers of Morden had particular cause to be concerned as in 1747/8 the parish was hit by an epidemic, infecting 90% of the residents and exacting a high death toll, before spreading to the neighbouring villages of Sturminster Marshall, Corfe Mullen, Bloxworth, Lytchett Matravers, Lytchett Minster and others.

I have already given some background to the prevalence of smallpox and the history of inoculation in Dorset (which pre-dates the trials carried out by Edward Jenner) in my account of the life of Charles CHRISTOPHER (1705-1791) of Fordington [Link to account] . As soon as William fell sick and could no longer bring in a wage Elizabeth would have been forced to approach the Overseers of the Poor of Morden for support so that she could buy food for her family. William had not been in Morden very long, and constantly moving around meant that his place of settlement was still Cheselbourne. The Overseers of Morden therefore contacted their counterparts in Cheselbourne advising them of their responsibility and it is the Cheselbourne Overseers accounts which record the expenses involved. On 1st August 1785 they paid for "William Cresepher's Family" to be inoculated for small pox, which cost them a guinea. On the same day they gave Elizabeth a further guinea to cover the cost of food etc that they had received since William fell sick. William died within the next few days being buried in St Mary's churchyard in Morden on 9th August 1785. On the 14th August there is another entry showing that the doctor received a further guinea for again attending the family, and Elizabeth received a further 16 shillings in support.
Return of the Family to Cheselbourne (November 1785)

After the death of William, Elizabeth and her surviving children returned to Cheselbourne in about the 2nd week of November. The Rector of St Martins Church in Cheselbourne, the Rev Giles TEMPLEMAN, had been appointed to the position in 1750 and when the existing rector of Wimborne St Giles, Thomas HOOPER, died in 1753 he appears to have looked after that parish as well. The Rev. Giles Templeman died on 23rd August 1790 and was buried at Wimborne St Giles on the 28th. In his will he left a gift of £20 to be distributed to the poor of Cheselbourne and this was carried out by the overseers of the poor for the parish (Stephen Baker & Robert Kingsbury) in 1791. They listed 51 recipients in their accounts and in determining the amount each person was to receive took into account the number of children each person had and probably whether older children were bringing in a supplementary wage. Elizabeth, (recorded as 'Widow Christopher') has 5 children with her and received 15 shillings. By 1791 her eldest daughter Sarah was already married, and her daughter Betty had died so a child (James) born during the missing years was also with her.

Death of Elizabeth (Betty) CHRISTOPHER (1744-1830)

It seems reasonably clear that Elizabeth/Betty and her remaining family left Cheselbourne sometime after 1791. We know that she attends the wedding in Wareham held on 22nd Feb 1797 of her son George CHRISTOPHER (1772/1843) to Jane DORY (1776-1859) as she is one of the witnesses on their certificate of marriage. George is described as being from Lady St Mary Parish in Wareham so would have been working within the parish for more than a year to have gained settlement. It's possible of course that George had been living with her in Wareham at the time of his marriage.

There is nothing further however until her death in 1830 which is recorded in the parish registers for Morden. These give her place of residence at the time of her death as Blandford Forum and her age to have been 91 but she was younger than that, it being 86 years from the date she was baptised. She was presumably returned to Morden to be buried with her husband William who had been buried there in 1785 and the body claimed by her eldest 2 children, Sarah Fancy and James Christopher who were both living at nearby Lytchett Minster.
Genealogical Notes:-

(1). Picture © Copyright Basher Eyre and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

(2). Source: Parish Register for Lytchett Minster at DHC Page 76 - James Fancy and Sarah Cristopher both of this parish were married in this church by Banns this 20 day September in the year 1783 by me Js Hannam Curate. This marriage was solemnized between us the mark of James Fancy; the mark of Sarah Cristopher in the presence of J Orrmon and William Dugdale

(3). They had seven children by this date but their eldest son Henry Fancy who had been baptised at Lytchett Minster on 26th June 1785 had died and was buried at Lytchett Minister on 10th June 1789. They renamed the next boy Henry again and had him baptised on Christmas day 1791, which they no doubt hoped would give him some additional protection in the eyes of the Lord. It seems to have worked as he lived to be 76 years old.

(4). The 5 plots of land are recorded as being owned by William de MAULEY Francis SPENCER (Lord) and Thomas Henry GRAHAM Trustees of Sir John WEBB Baronet; occupier James FANCY :- (1) Plot 427 called Great Hazel Gore , type arable land 4 acres 1 rood 39 square perch (2) Plot 429 called Gran Close, type pasture 7 acres 1 rood 24 sq perch (3) Plot 432 called Grans Moor, type meadow 8 2 26 (4) Plot 434 called Broad Lane, type arable 3 2 2 (5) Plot 435 called Furmage Ground, type arable land 2 3 32. This tithe map is available to view on ancestry.com and these plots of land appear to be on the road out of Lytchett past the (now) roundabout (where you can turn south to Wareham) on the road to Dorchester - on the left between the road and the small river which is difficult to follow on google earth. Perhaps now past Palmers farm a bit further on you come on the left of the road to LG Cotwell (master thatcher) & Slepe Cottages & references to Bulbury. Both Slepe and Bulbury are name mentioned in my family many years later so I think James and Sarah helped other members of the family to get work on this farm from time to time.

(5). From the 1843 Tithe Map of Wareham St Martin: Occupier of all the following plots was James FANCY and the owner Lord de Mauley (1) Plot 261, called Miles Mead, meadow 7.3.37. (2) Plot 262, called Lovelaces, arable land, 3.1.0. (3) Plot 263 called Lovelaces Coppice, a coppice, 3.2.11 (4) Plot 264 called Inclosed Heath, a heath, 2.3.9. (5) Plot 265 called The Common, a heath, 118.3.17. (6) Plot 265a called Inclosed from the common, arable land, 2.1.9 (7) Plot 266 called West Mead, a meadow 3.2.11 (8) Plot 267 called Coppice, a coppice, 0. 1.16. (9) Plot 268 called New Ground, arable land, 3.2.6. (10) Plot 269 called Tweleve acres, Furze, 11.3.17 (11) Plot 270 called land adjoining, furze, 4.2.10 (12) Plot 271 called land adjoining, furze, 1.2.8. (13) Plot 272 called land adjoining, Arable land, 0.2.37. (14) Plot 273 called The Meadow, arable land, 3.2.39. (15) Plot 274 called The Little plot, a garden 1 rood and 4 perch. This gives a total area of 167 acres 3 rood and 41 perch and the land is grouped together far north in St Martins Parish Wareham abutting the river between it and Lower Lytchett. Between the roads to Lytchett and Poole that radiate from Wareham although these may have changed position somewhat over the years.

(6) George CHRISTOPHER: Regarding his year of birth:- His death certificate shows that he died on 29th May 1843 at Longfleet near Poole in the Union Workhouse when the attendant gave his age as being 78 making him born in 1765. George was illiterate and this is not a family member so may not be accurate. We have not been able to locate a church burial record. The only other indication that we have is the 1841 Census when his age is recorded as being in the 70 to 74 year age band making his birth between 1767 and 1771.

(7) Jane DOREY was baptised at West Lulworth on 17th March 1776 the 5th of 9 children from the marriage of Lawrence DOREY to Mary SNELLING at Winfrith Newburgh on 20th Dec 1765

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