The Name and Family of Barham

by Sydney Pay Barham

Chapter Twenty Six


John Barham became of age in 1663 or 1664, and was the third, and last in line to own the Shoesmiths estate. It is not certain whether the forges and furnaces were in operation at that date. In 1664, when there was a war with Holland, and a revival of the Wealdan Iron industry, lists were drawn up of the establishments at work. There is no mention in any of these lists of either Brookland or Verage forges, although the furnace at Snape is recorded. Mr. Straker thinks that this is a reference to the furnace at Snape or Scragoak purchased by the second John Barham. This furnace is stated to have been in ruins before 1663, but could have been rebuilt and set to work again. It appears that the Barhams’ forges and furnaces ceased to operate before the end of the 17th century. However the master of Shoesmiths owned ample lands, and enjoyed a corresponding income, even if the ancestral ironworks no longer contributed to it.

John Barham was over fifty years of age when on the 14th Feb. 1694-95 he married Lucy, daughter of John Chauntler of Lofton, near Lewes. His wife was a Wadhurst lady and the marriage was an ill omen to Shoesmiths. Mistress Lucy is described as a very subtle ill-tempered woman, of whom her elderly husband was much afraid. It is fair to state however that this unfavourable character was imputed to her by those who were aggrieved by the disposal of the estate at John Barham's death. Lucy had a sister, a half sister and nephew who comes into our story.

John Barham celebrated his belated marriage by repairs or additions to Great Shoesmiths, and one of the gables bears the date 1695, and the initials "B.J.L.", for Barham, John and Lucy. A daughter was born to whom on the 6th March 1695-96 the family name of Elizabeth was given. In the following year, as if he had a premonition that there would be no male heir, her father made a will, bequeathing his personal estate, after payment of certain legacies, and the whole of his real estate in Wadhurst, Ticehurst, Frant, and Yalding, to his daughter, and her heirs; and in default of heirs to his dear and well beloved wife, Lucy Barham, who was named the sole executor of his will. In 1699 however his wife presented him with a son, who was Christened John on 16th May of that year, but he died the following August.

I have already written of Faircrouch, which had been the home of the second of the ironmasters. It is to be presumed that it remained in the possession of the family after their headquarters became Great Shoesmiths, but we hear nothing of it until 1692, when it was purchased by William Benge, a gentleman of Wadhurst, who had married Diana Chauntler, John Barham's sister in law. This man had acquired the old furnace of Lamberhurst, and in 1695 he rebuilt it, and enlarged it, making it the most extensive establishment of its kind in the Weald. In fact it became so famous that it was visited by Princess Anne, afterwards Queen Anne, during her stay at Tunbridge Wells, and was named the Gloucester Furnace, in honour of her son, the Duke of Gloucester, who had he lived would have been the King of England. But William Benge had over strained his resources, and in 1696, he had to mortgage Faircrouch and other lands to John Barham. The enterprise failed, John Barham fore-closed and so Faircrouch returned to the Barham hands for a time. Gloucester Furnace passed to other ownership and was worked with such success that an operator who died in 1752 is said to have amassed a fortune of £30,000. There is a tradition, which cannot however be substantiated, that the railings around St. Paul's Cathedral were cast here. According to Hasted it was the only furnace in Kent still at work in 1782.

Wealth brought honours to John Barham. In the 14th year of William III (1701-02), he served as Sheriff of the County of Sussex, but he was now advancing in years, and all his hopes and affections were now focused on Elizabeth, his only surviving child. He had arranged a special match for her, for she was to be married to a Baronet, Sir Walter Clark of 'Ratten', Willingdon, near Eastbourne, but there was to be no wedding at Great Shoesmiths and no lady Elizabeth. She was stricken with consumption and died on 20th September 1712, at the age of 16. Grief at the loss of his daughter seemed to have dejected John Barham wholly to the influence of his wife, who under the terms of his will, which he didn't amend, was now his sole heiress and executrix, and indeed is said to have executed deeds conveying to his wife power to dispose of his whole estate, personal and real, for, we are told, she had such advantage over her husband that he would not deny what she desired, and did persuade the said John Barham to settle his estate as she would have it. Lucy, for her part made her own testamentary dispositions.

Four years after the death of Elizabeth, John Barham lost his domineering wife. Lucy Barham was buried at Wadhurst on 2nd October 1716. The old man was now quite alone. He lived on for a few more years, and died on the 10th March 1723, aged over 80 years. He had outlived two other veteran kinsmen, his uncle William, who died in 1702, aged 72, and Mr. William Barham of Scragoak, who died in 1701, aged 80. There was litigation over John Barham's will, which was not proved until 1727, nearly four years after his decease. The administration of his estate was granted to Nicholas Barham, of Speldhurst, his second cousin, and grandson of his father's elder brother Stephen, an indication of the low estate to which remnant of the Barhams in Wadhurst had fallen.

By the dispositions of the late Lucy Barham, the greater part of her husbands' property fell to George Eagles of Uckfield, her nephew, being the son of her half brother. The fortunate but undeserving beneficiary, then 39 years of age received Great Shoesmiths, and the rest of the Shoesmiths estate with Snape Wood, Brooklands, Well Wood, and Newlands, Bartley Mill and Verage, Lambkin Corner, Noble's Gate, and Tuckinghurst, other farms in Yalding. Faircrouch, Buckhurst Wood, and other land mortgaged to John Barham by William Benge went to John Eagles a half brother of George. I give these names and places as quoted by Mr. FitzGerald-Uniacke but not all of them can be identified on the modern map.

This willing away of the Barham estates to comparative strangers was an act of injustice to the remaining members of the family, and in particular to Nicholas Fowl of Riverhall, who is described as the heir-at-law, being the grandson of John Barham's only surviving sister, Elizabeth, who had married one of the Fowls of Riverhall, a cousin in 1666.

Nicholas Fowl, and other interested parties who may have received some personal legacies, and made no attempt to attack the settlement, but Thomas White, a son in law of the same Elizabeth was not satisfied, and filed a Bill of Complaint against George Eagles and other legatees, in the answer to which George Eagles furnished an inventory of the furniture and effects of Great Shoesmiths, and an abstract of the title, and other deeds relating to the estate. Mr. FitzGerald-Uniacke quotes some items from the inventory, which includes: "Silver plate, valued at £109:17:9d, and £160:4:0d in cash in the house at the time of the decease." I assume that the complainant did not win his case.

It should be added that the aspirations on Lucy Barham's character and actions are largely derived from Thomas White's allegations and may be unduly biased against the lady. Mrs. Lucy's machinations did not rob the parish of John Barham's benefaction. He bequeathed the sum of £5 a year to the instruction in reading of five children of the parish, whose parents were not of the ability; and 12 2d loaves to be distributed every Sunday after evening service to 12 poor persons, who receive no relief from the parish. Presumably an endowment was established which brought in between £10 and £11 a year, representing a much greater sum today. The education endowment has I believe been augmented by modern representatives of the family, but I do not know what, if anything has taken place at the distribution of the 2d loaves of bread. Particulars of the charity are to be read on the monument of John Barham, his wife, son and daughter, which is displayed on the south wall of the chancel of the Wadhurst parish church. This is no crudely lettered slab of cast iron, the work of some local craftsman, but an elaborate marble tablet, with composite columns and curved pediment, and a shield on urn between leaping cherubs, signed by a London sculptor, but the colours have been banished by time. This imposing monument informs the reader that it was erected with the utmost gratitude and respects to the memories of the deceased by George Eagles, of Shoesmiths, Kent. Anno Dom. 1730, but the fact is that Lucy Barham set aside in her will the sum of £300 for the purpose of a memorial, with an endowment of £5 a year for keeping it in repair, and the inscription legible.

It would be pleasant if we could record that George Eagles, Gent. showed his gratitude and respect by making a good use of his fortune, but we are told he squandered it, and at his death in 1752, he left the property to Alexander Courthope of Horsmonden, and other trustees, for the payment of his debts, etc. The estate which was estimated to be worth £7,000, and to bring in more than £200 a year, was sold to Charles Pratt, who was afterwards created Attorney General, and Baron Camden, the ancestors of the present Marquis Camden of Bayham Abbey. Great Shoesmiths, so long a home of the iron working Barhams, now forms part of the Bayham Abbey estate, and is inhabited by a tenant farmer. Local tradition asserts that the old house is haunted, which it well deserves to be.

The 18th century saw the decline and fall of the Barhams of Wadhurst. All the representatives seem to have been aged and childless men, or poor relations, fallen on evil times. The family seat fell into the hands of strangers; Snape, Scragoak, Great Butts, Faircrouch, and lastly Great Shoesmiths. William Barham gave up Snape and died in 1721, without children. His godfather of Scragoak, had died in 1701. aged 80 and probably childless. A John Barham sold Great Butts in 1713 and lived in obscurity until his death in 1732, at the age of 75. Faircrouch had been sold in 1792, and although it returned for a time to the possession of a member of the family, it was lost with the rest of the Shoesmiths estate when John Barham, the last of his line died in 1724. There are vague reports of other descendants ending their lives in the workhouse, or earning their lives as blacksmiths.

It has been said that the decay of the Wealden iron industry was the cause of the impoverishment of such families as the Barhams of Wadhurst. The most flourishing period of the industry was in the 16th century, under the Tudor Monarchs, there after its fortunes fluctuated and towards the end of the 17th century were in decline. A long succession of dry summers in the early part of the 18th century robbed the furnaces and forges of their water power, by lowering the level of the hammer ponds. The iron works of the Weald, which depended upon charcoal for their fuel, were unable to compete with the iron furnaces of the Midlands, where coke had been introduced as a fuel in 1735. They struggled on in diminishing numbers throughout the century, and by the end of it they were nearly extinct. The last works to survive were at Ashburnham in Sussex, where the furnaces were blown out at about 1810, and the forge abandoned in 1812.

I am doubtful however whether the decline in fortunes of the Wadhurst Barhams is to be linked with that of the Wealdan iron. It is noteworthy that of the six John Barhams who owned the forges, each was a second son, except the two who were surviving male children. I do not know whether this was due to coincidence or family prejudice, as if the iron works were regarded of secondary importance to the ownership of the land. It was quite certain that the last John Barham of Shoesmiths, with his ample estates, was independent financially of his forges, and if he had a vigorous male heir, the fortune of his line could have contained for a further generation at least. It may be that the decline of the Barhams at Wadhurst was due to failing stamina, and the lack of young blood. There was young blood in some branches of the family, but not at Sissinghurst.