Legacy of Property and Land in Great Ellingham
Anthony Porter of Great Ellingham died c.1786, and left all his freehold and copyhold lands in Great Ellingham to his niece, Mary Dennis (née Willomatt). At this time, Mary was living in the town of Watton, some 8 miles from Great Ellingham.
Mary’s use and benefit of the property and land was limited to the term of her ‘natural life’. This meant that on Mary’s death, the property would pass in accordance with the provisions of Anthony Porter’s will (dated 20th January, 1786), and not by any will of Mary Dennis.
I believe the inheritance included a house, outbuildings and garden, as well as an orchard with a barn, in Town Green. This property remained in the ownership of the Dennis family until it was sold in 1832.
Marriage of Robert Dennis & Mary Willomatt
Mary married Robert Dennis some thirteen years before receiving the inheritance.
Church of St George, Saham Toney c.1912
On the 16th December, 1773, Mary Willomatt married Robert Dennis in the parish church at Saham Toney. Robert Dennis was some 16 years older than his bride. Both the bridegroom and bride were living in Saham Toney at the time of the wedding.
This was a family ‘double wedding’. On the same day, Bell Willomatt married Sarah Dennis. William Keddell (or Kiddell?) and William Cooke witnessed both marriages.
Mary, daughter of Bell & Mary Willomatt
I think it likely that Mary Willomatt was the daughter of Bell and Mary Willomatt (née Porter). She was baptised in Saham Toney in 1756.
By 1776, Robert and Mary Dennis were living in Watton. Their son Benjamin was baptised at the parish church on the 19th November of that year. Likely Benjamin was not their firstborn. Their son, Robert Willomatt Dennis, may have been born a year or so earlier. However, I have not yet found a corresponding baptism for Robert Willomatt Dennis.
Further children of Robert and Mary were baptised in Watton: Mary baptised in the parish church in 1782, Porter born and baptised on the 19th June, 1785, Sarah baptised May 5th, 1787, Alice in March 1789, and William baptised in September 1791. Another son, George Simon, was born c.1796.
Move from Watton to Great Ellingham
It appears that Robert and Mary lived for a short time in Town Green, Great Ellingham. Their son, Anthony, was baptised in the parish church of St James in Great Ellingham on the 23rd June, 1799. Sadly, the couple buried Anthony in the churchyard on October 29th, 1801.
Back to Watton
Postcard of Watton High Street. Postmarked 1908
By the time Robert Dennis signed his last will and testament on the 21st November, 1805 (just a month after Nelson’s death at the Battle of Trafalgar), the couple had returned to live in Watton.
Robert Dennis was a victualler. He may well have been the Robert Dennis who was the licensee of the Green Man, High Street, Watton from at least 1789 to 1794.
Death of Robert Dennis
Robert Dennis died in Watton aged 69. He was buried at the parish church on May 19th, 1814.
After Robert’s death, his widow Mary Dennis remained in Watton. However, she still owned the property and land in Town Green, Great Ellingham.
Mary Dennis Licensee of the Flower Pot in Watton
Like her husband, Mary Dennis was a victualler. She was licensee of the ‘Flower Pot’ Public House in Watton in 1822. This pub was also known as the ‘Garden House’, and also the ‘Rose’.
In his will, Robert Willomatt Dennis (c.1775-1829), the eldest son of Robert and Mary, refers to his public house in Watton called ‘the Flower Pot’, which he says was [then] in the occupation of his mother, Mary Dennis. He also owned other property and land in Watton.
Robert also mentions land and property in Great Ellingham, which would pass to him on the death of his mother, Mary Dennis. In the event, Robert died in December, 1829, just eighteen months before his mother.
1817-1819 Property in Town Green
A Survey of Great Ellingham 1817-1819 reveals that widow Mary Dennis and Benjamin Dennis (her son), continued to own the Homestead in Town Green, Great Ellingham (and the various pieces of land) which Mary had inherited from her uncle in 1786.
At this time, the property and land was occupied by Mary’s son in law and daughter, William and Mary Burch.
William & Mary Burch
William Burch married Mary, the eldest daugher of Robert and Mary Dennis, in the parish church at Watton on the 5th October, 1808. The couple made their home in Great Ellingham.
Three children of William and Mary Burch were baptised in the Church of St James: Sarah on July 2nd, 1809, Mary on the 12th August, 1810 and, lastly, Matthew on July 12th, 1812.
Sadly, in 1815 the couple buried 3 year old Matthew and 5 year old Mary in the churchyard of St James, on the 16th April and 10th May respectively.
Move to Attleborough
William and Mary Burch moved to the nearby town of Attleborough sometime after 1819.
Mary Burch (née Dennis) died aged 40 in Attleborough in 1828. She was buried in the churchyard at Great Ellingham on the 6th May, 1828, just two years before the death of her mother, Mary Dennis.
William Burch died aged 54, also in Attleborough. On 3rd November, 1832, he too was buried in the churchyard at Great Ellingham.
Death of Mary Dennis
Mary Dennis continued to own the property in Town Green until she died in Watton at the age of 78, on the 30th May, 1831. Mary was buried in Watton at the beginning of June.
Following Mary’s death, the Homestead in Town Green (then occupied by tenant John Flegg) was sold at auction in 1832 by the executors and trustees of her late eldest son, Robert Willomatt Dennis. The purchaser was Robert Boyce.
Mary Dennis may have been survived by only three of her nine children – Benjamin, Sarah and Alice.
Her youngest son, Anthony, had died in infancy in 1801. Her eldest son, Robert Willomatt Dennis died in 1829, and Mary, her eldest daughter (and wife of William Burch), died in 1828. In addition, sons Porter, William and George also predeceased their mother.
Porter Dennis c.1785-1814
‘Porter’ was a family name. When naming children, many families gave the child the mother’s maiden name, or another surname which had some significance to the family.
I have no doubt that ‘Porter’ was named after Mary Dennis’s mother’s family. It was, of course, Mary’s uncle Anthony Porter who bequeathed Mary the land and property in Great Ellingham.
Porter Dennis (born c.1785), a cooper, of Great Ellingham died in June 1814 aged 29. He was also buried in the churchyard at Great Ellingham.
Porter appointed his brother Benjamin Dennis and brother in law William Burch as the executors of his will. He gave legacies to each of his sisters, Sarah, Mary and Alice, and directed his executors to make the payments within 12 months after his death or, if his mother (Mary Dennis) was still alive at the time of his death, then the legacies were to be paid 12 months after his mother’s death. Porter gave the remainder of his estate to his brother, Benjamin.
William Dennis c.1791-1816
I believe Mary Dennis’s son, William, also predeceased his mother. I found a entry in the Watton parish registers for William Dennis aged 25 years buried on 9th April, 1816.
George Dennis c.1796-1829
A burial on 11th May, 1829, for George Simon Dennis aged 33 years of Watton, also appears in the Watton Parish Registers . Again, I am assuming that this George is also Mary Dennis’s son.
Benjamin Dennis c.1776-1855
Born in Watton, Benjamin Dennis, the second son of Robert and Mary Dennis (née Willomatt), outlived both his parents.
He married Frances Leath in the parish church of St James on the 8th December, 1803. Both he and Frances were single, and living in Great Ellingham at the time of their marriage.
Frances was the daughter of Alice and Richard Leath. She was under two years old when her father died in 1785. Her mother married William Jessup just a year later in 1786.
William and Alice Jessup ran the Rose & Crown Public House (also known as The Bell, and later the Crown). Frances may well have walked the short distance from the pub to the church to get married!
Children in Great Ellingham
Following the marriage, Benjamin and Frances Dennis made their home in Great Ellingham, and had at least 11 children.
The 1841 census captures 60 year old Benjamin and his 55 year old wife Frances in Great Ellingham, with some of their children Mary aged 30, William 20, Robert 20 and Benjamin 15. [It is worth bearing in mind that for this census, the enumerators were told to ’round down’ the ages of adults to the nearest multiple of 5]. Benjamin senior was described as a clerk, and his three sons were all working as agricultural labourers.
Death of Frances Dennis
Frances Dennis (née Leath) died aged 67 in November, 1850, and was buried in the churchyard of St James.
Widower Benjamin Dennis
The 1851 census captures widower Benjamin Dennis living in Town Green with his unmarried 21 year old son, Benjamin. Young Benjamin worked as a farm labourer. The census records his father’s occupation as a parish clerk and a collector of rates.
Benjamin Dennis died at the age of 74, and was also buried in the churchyard in Great Ellingham on July 19th, 1855.
Benjamin Dennis signed his last will and testament just six days before he died. He appointed his son Anthony Porter Dennis (again the family name of ‘Porter’ crops up), and Robert Lebbell as his executors. Robert Lebbell was at this time the licensee of the Crown Public House.
Benjamin bequeathed his clock, feather bed and all his other articles to his youngest son (and namesake) Benjamin Dennis. The remainder of his estate would be shared amongst his children, or their heirs.
Dennis Family Descendants
The 1861 census undertaken six years after the death of Benjamin Dennis, reveals that some of the children of Benjamin and Frances Dennis were still living in Great Ellingham.
Unmarried brothers, Benjamin and Robert Dennis (said to be 34 and 35 respectively) were living in Church Street. Their sister Louisa is with her husband, John Mitson, and children were in Long Street.
1787 will. Porter, Anthony, of Great Ellingham. Norfolk Record Office. ANF will register 1787-1789 fo.3 (1787 no.3). Extract of will contained in 1753-1847 Manor of Buckenham Castle, Lathes, Close and Priory. Court Book. Norfolk Record Office. Catalogue Ref: MC 1833/8 -MC 1833/16. 1595-1847 also available at https://www.familysearch.org/
1802 Russell James Colman Plans. Great Ellingham. Catalogue Ref. C/Ca 1/84.
1799-1842 F W Horner, Records of the Surveyors to Commissioners for Inclosure in Parishes in Norfolk and Suffolk. Great Ellingham (Act 1799). Norfolk Record Office. Catalogue Ref: NRO, BR 90/2
1800 Inclosure Commissioner’s Particulars and Valuation, Great Ellingham. Norfolk Record Office. Catalogue Ref: NRO, MC 2213/119
Great Ellingham Parish Registers. Norfolk Record Office. PD609. Also available at https://www.familysearch.org/
1799 Statement of Claims. Great Ellingham Inclosure. Norfolk Record Office. Catalogue Ref: MC 2213/118
Watton Parish Registers. Norfolk Record Office. PD 218. Also available at https://www.familysearch.org/
Saham Toney Parish Registers. Norfolk Record Office. PD 566. Also available at https://www.familysearch.org/
Norfolk Pubs Website https://www.norfolkpubs.co.uk/norfolkw/watton/wattro.htm viewed 21.02.2021
Will. Dennis, Robert, of Watton. Norfolk Record Office. ANW, will register, 1814-1816, (1814) fo.84, no.47. Viewed via Norfolk Sources wesbite. http://www.norfolksources.norfolk.gov.uk 16.02.2021
Grant of Administration. Dennis, Mary, of Watton. NCC administration bonds 1829-1831 no.171. 1829-1831 Viewed via Norfolk Sources wesbite. http://www.norfolksources.norfolk.gov.uk 16.02.2021
Will. Dennis, Robert Willomatt, of Watton. Norfolk Record Office. ANW, will register, 1829-1831, (1830) fo.60, no.51). Viewed via Norfolk Sources wesbite. http://www.norfolksources.norfolk.gov.uk 16.02.2021
Will. Dennis, Porter, of Great Ellingham. Norfolk Record Office. ANF will register 1814-1815 fo.276 (1814 no.81) http://www.norfolksources.norfolk.gov.uk 16.02.2021
Will. Dennis, Benjamin, of Great Ellingham. Norfolk Record Office. ANF will register 1854-1858 (1855) no.34. http://www.norfolksources.norfolk.gov.uk 16.02.2021
1861 census RG9/1237/93, RG9/1237/91
1851 census HO107/1823/108
1841 census HO107/781/8