The scandalous story of a breach of a promise to marry

Today’s post is the story of my 4x great-grandmother and her 4 daughters who all lived in a tiny rural Suffolk village in the early 1800s.  It is a scandalous tale of a boys’ boarding school, a breach of a promise to marry, and much tippling of sherry in the local pub by my 4x great-grandmother.

I first posted this story on Worldwide Genealogy blog a couple of weeks ago.  So apologies if you’ve already read it on that blog.  Since I wrote my post for Worldwide Genealogy, I paid another visit to the tiny village where the events described in my post took place. Therefore, I have added some more modern-day photographs of the church and village to today’s post.  I have also updated this post with more details about William Parnall (husband to one of the daughters); and also more details about the man, William John Lucock, who jilted his potential wife – including his love letters to his bride-never-to-be, Emma Redit.

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Family history
One of my female ancestor’s has always intrigued me over my many years of research: Louisa Parnall – my paternal great-grandmother – the mother of my grandfather – and her family. The Parnall family has long fascinated me (always spelt Parnall, never, ever with an “e”). But, I have always found it very difficult to retell their particular story because there just is so much evidence about them and their activities.  I have a mountain of information, documents and photos about them all.  It’s that rare occurrence when there is simply too much evidence about a particular family to make it all into a coherent story!

Louisa Parnall – shortly before her 1880 marriage

The Parnalls from Llansteffan, Wales
In a nutshell, four brothers and one sister left the tiny rural village of Llansteffan, in Carmarthenshire, Wales sometime between the 1820s and 1830, and headed for the bright lights of London. The two younger brothers and the sister (Robert, Henry and Anne) found that the pavements of London were, indeed, lined with gold and so made their fortune in the clothing industry.  They ultimately died with enough wealth to make them each the equivalent of today’s multimillionaires.

Sadly, the two older brothers (William and Thomas), did not make their fortunes, and so both, at different times, were made bankrupt and possibly thrown into debtors’ gaol. Both, probably as a consequence of their financial misfortunes, died relatively young in their 40s/50s. William was my 3x great grandfather – Louisa (above) being his grand-daughter. Fortunately, the successful siblings looked after William’s many children and grand-children – employing some of them, making others their heirs, and leaving substantial bequests in their wills to all of them – including my great-grandmother (their great-niece). Thomas appears to have not married and died childless.

When researching the story of the Parnalls, it has always been very easy to track down Robert Parnall and his brother Henry Parnall because they had a very large warehouse/factory in the City of London (Bishopsgate) and also in Suffolk, and employed many hundreds of people. I have even tracked them down on Google through a very tenuous link that one of Jack the Ripper’s (suspected) victim’s lovers worked for them! Even poor William and Thomas Parnall can be tracked down via Google because of their bankruptcies.

Tallis’s London Street views – Bishopsgate Without (1838-1840).
The Parnall’s first factory is shown at number 100.
Ultimately they had 2 factories on this very busy London high-road.

 

Henry Parnall in 1860 in the churchyard outside St Botoph’s Church, Bishopsgate.
He left a substantial will bequest to St Botoph’s Church for them to maintain their graveyard as a garden for use by the general public.  Thus my ancestor has ensured that many of today’s City-workers have somewhere to sit in the fresh air on a sunny day.
Image appears by kind permission of  City of London’s Collage Collection

But over my many years of research into the Parnalls, I’d totally ignored their wives and the impact the Parnall wives had on their menfolk.

The wives of the Parnall brothers
A few years ago, the British Newspaper Archive came online and a whole new world of genealogical and local history research opened up – newspaper articles. So I started entering in my Parnall names, and as expected, found plenty about Robert’s and Henry’s two large warehouses in Bishopsgate and also their factory in Suffolk. However, all of a sudden, my searches threw up the story of William Parnall’s wife (William being my bankrupt direct ancestor). But, rather than being a story about the Parnalls, this was the story of his wife, Mary (also my direct ancestor) and her sister, Emma.  Both were the children of the very respectful schoolmaster of Grundisburgh, Suffolk and his equally respectful wife, Mary and Nathaniel Redit (my 4x great-grandparents).

The Redit’s story starts when William was an up and coming successful businessman – long before his financial woes – and long before his brothers Robert and Henry were even old enough to come to London to seek their fortunes.  According to newspaper reports dating from 1833, William’s wife, Mary Redit, was “extremely well married, and living in London“.  The Parnall’s father, Edmund Parnall, was a tenant sheep farmer in Wales and could hardly be described as well-to-do.  Therefore, William had, by 1833, become so successful that Mary Redit had married “extremely well”.  The story of the Redit women was told through the eyes of local and national newspapers.  Reporters delighted in recounting an extremely scandalous and juicy legal story of unrequited love whilst it was played out in the court-rooms of Bury St Edmunds.  The story of the Redits even made The Times newspaper and was probably debated over the breakfast table of many middle and upper-class houses!  According to reports, the court-house itself was packed and “the ladies, to the infinite disappointment of their curiosity, were ordered out of the court.”

The Redit women of Grundisburgh, Suffolk
The newspaper account below is from The Times newspaper for Tuesday 6th August 1833. Emma’s case was also reported in the national newspaper, The Observer, along with all the local East Anglian newspapers.
Emma Redit - Breach of Marriage Contract 1833Emma Redit - Breach of Marriage Contract 1833Emma Redit - Breach of Marriage Contract 1833Emma Redit - Breach of Marriage Contract 1833Emma Redit - Breach of Marriage Contract 1833Emma Redit - Breach of Marriage Contract 1833Emma Redit - Breach of Marriage Contract 1833
By awarding Emma £500 in damages (a substantial amount in 1833), the judge and jury clearly believed that Emma had not misbehaved, nor had she had a miscarriage.  So was not of loose virtue. She was vindicated, and her potential suitor had been found guilty of the civil crime of Breach of a Promise to Marry.

Emma’s breach of marriage was retold in even greater detail in the many different local newspapers – each newspaper relaying different aspects of the case. Her mother and her 4 sisters (including Mary Parnall nee Redit) had all been called as witnesses. Many of the newspaper reports recorded their testimonies as to their own and Emma’s behaviour. This case was not just about Emma’s good virtue, but it had put into the question the entire Redit family’s morals. Emma’s mother, Mary (my 4x great-grandmother) seems to have been on the witness stand for a long period of time and she, out of all the Redit women, was personally held to account by barristers acting for Lucock.

Mary Redit testified that:-

 “I am mother of Emma Redit, who is my third child. My two elder daughters are married [this included Mary Parnall]. Emma is now 23. My husband died in February 1832; he kept a school at Grundisburgh 26 years. Defendant’s family had lived at Grundisburgh 30 years; we were intimate. Mr Lucock’s family consisted of a daughter and son. Mr Lucock [father] died in July 1831. Defendant was a scholar at my husband’s school, he was about 13 years old when he left. Defendant continued to live at the house where his father died. Mrs Grimwood (defendant’s sister) died about the end of last year. Defendant’s [Lucock] visits were frequent at my house about February and March 1831. We considered him as the intended husband of Emma. He came there much more frequently than he had previously done; and he paid more marked attentions to my daughter. He took her to Woodbridge Theatre, with her younger sister. My daughter was much attached to the defendant. [Note in the newspaper’s account: Letters were put in [to court] and identified as being in the handwriting of the defendant]. One day my daughter said she should like a letter on a plain piece of paper better than one he had given her; and he gave her another letter in which he promised to make her his wife. At that time and afterwards he was received in [the] witness’s family as her daughter’s future husband. Witness heard defendant say, he should not have a house to seek for, as he had one, and an income. He said the house was left in his father’s will to him (this was before his father’s death). He said rather more than half the property was coming to him. The latter part of March, defendant’s visits became less frequent. (Another letter was then put in [to court] and read, in which the defendant apologized for omitting to perform some engagement). When his visits were less frequent, I called a third time on Mrs Grimwood; it was not till I called a third time on Mrs Grimwood that I saw the defendant. I than asked him what he meant by not paying his visits to my daughter, as he promised; he had promised to take her to the theatre. I asked him why had had not answered my daughter’s two notes. He said, he never intended to come or to answer any notes. I asked him for his reasons, and he said he had none. I told him he must have heard something***; he replied he, he had not. He said, he never intended to make any explanation of his conduct, for if he loved the girl one day, it was no reason he should the next. I asked what he had done with the notes; he said he had burnt them. Defendant never renewed his acquaintance with my daughter after this period, and he never assigned a reason for his conduct.”

***My note: Is Emma’s mother unwittingly telling us that there had been rumours about Emma’s virtue and her alleged miscarriage?  Had Lucock heard rumours about Emma – hence him breaking off the engagement? Was this just the very excuse he was looking for to get out of marrying her.

Mrs Redit was cross-examined by Lucock’s barrister. Through the newspaper’s account of the cross-examination, it is clear that Lucock’s barrister was putting her own name, and that of her late husband’s Nathaniel’s name, into disrepute.  Thus, the entire Redit family was on trial.  Moreover, the implications are clear in the newspaper reports: Lucock thought Emma and her family were gold-diggers and after his money.  Mrs Redit testified that:-

“My husband [Nathaniel] did not die in very good circumstances. I did not dictate the letter produced. Nothing was said about a stamp for that letter. [This appears to have been the letter where Lucock had declared that he would marry Emma] Young Lucock kept his birthday at the public-house, called the Dog; I was not there. I never took wine or spirits at that house in an unbecoming way; never took more than two glasses. I may have gone to the public-house sometimes three times in the year. Defendant came of age on the 22nd and gave the promise of marriage on the 28th. I never saw defendant intoxicated in my life. He came home with my husband about three o’clock one day. They came to have a beef steak together, they had a little wine.”

The implication above was that Mrs Redit had made young Lucock write the letter of his intention to marry Emma whilst he was drunk after a heavy drinking session with Mr and Mrs Redit on his 21st birthday.  The landlord of the Dog public house was called as a witness to repudiate Mrs Redit’s testimony. He testified that:-

“The defendant’s birthday was kept at his house [i.e. The Dog] in February 1831: eleven people were present and Redit [i.e. Nathaniel, Emma’s father] and the plaintiff left the house [pub] together and proceeded to Redit’s house. Mrs Redit was once at his house in company with Captain Drury (since dead) and her husband, and on that occasion drank nine glasses of sherry. He saw her take five, and the Captain said she had drank nine”.

(An eyewitness account of five sherries – but more than likely nine sherries!!! My 4x great-grandmother seemed to have liked her drink!)

In yet another newspaper report, The Ipswich and Bury Post, Lucock’s love letters to Emma were published in detail:-
Emma Redit - Breach of Marriage Contract 1833

Consequences of bringing a legal case regarding a breach of a promise
When the Redits first decided to bring the breach of a promise to marry to court, they had no idea that Lucock was going to attempt to blacken Emma’s name. As far as they were concerned, Emma had Lucock’s love letters and promises to marry her, but he breached the promise without explanation.

We know that the Redits initially did not know the extent of Lucock’s attempts to wriggle out of the court case via two further newspaper reports in local papers: one report 4 months before the August trial, and one report 3 months afterwards.

Emma Redit - Breach of Marriage Contract 1833Bury and Norwich Post – Wednesday 20th March 1833

Emma Redit - Breach of Marriage Contract 1833Ipswich Journal – Saturday 30 November 1833

From these two reports 8 months apart, it can be determined that the Redit family must have seriously considered the consequences of bringing their case to court. An action in which Lucock had clearly told the Redits that he intended to blacken Emma’s name. Between the first attempt at suing Lucock in March, until the eventual trial in August, the Redit family must have spent a great deal of time and money on finding all the witnesses required to testify on her behalf. Thus all 3 of Emma’s sisters took the stand, as did the husband of the eldest sister, along with former pupils of the school. All testified as to Emma’s good character: that she had not had a miscarriage; nor had her behaviour in the boy’s dorms been in anyway questionable.

That the Redits went to such a length to bring the case twice to court, and they did so the second time fully aware of Lucock’s defence, they must have been convinced of their case and Emma’s innocence.

However, sadly, it seems that although Lucock lost his case, and Emma’s good name was upheld, he was determined to make her suffer by bringing a costs action against her for the costs of the first trial in March which didn’t go ahead. And it didn’t go ahead because Lucock, at the very last minute, warned the Redits that he was going to blacken her name. Fortunately the courts decided in the November hearing that this delay in having to abandon the hearing could only have helped Lucock’s case, but he still lost.  So he was not awarded any money from Emma.

From the distance of nearly 200 years, and from my (perhaps?) biased viewpoint that the Redits were my ancestors, Lucock appeared to have been an absolute cad and bounder. Emma was better off not marrying him!

In the end, as we have seen, despite all the mud-slinging, Emma’s good name was proved, and she won her case for breach of marriage.  It must have been unbearable for this family to be thrown into such an intense spotlight.  Even though Emma won her case, the Redit name would have been ruined locally.  After all, as the old saying goes, there is no smoke without fire…

Emma’s story could have ended here, despite her winning in court, her good name and virtue (and that of her family’s) ruined forever and her reputation in tatters.  She must have been very notorious, and would have had extremely poor marriage prospects.

The Redits of Suffolk and the Parnalls of Wales
However,  Emma’s story did have a happy ending. On the 7th August 1836, three years almost to the day after the court case, Emma married her sister Mary’s husband’s brother, Robert Parnall in Soho, London. (I wonder if the date of her marriage was merely coincidence? Or did she use the date to reinforce the message that she was the innocent victim of scandalous gossip…)

This was the very same Robert, who, as I previously recounted further up this post went on to find his fame and vast fortune on the streets of London. At the time of their marriage Robert was 20 and Emma was 26 years old. Whatever earlier escapades Emma got up to, the Parnall family obviously believed her story and all the Parnalls stood by her and the other Redit family members. Emma died in the 1860s and lived much of her life in London, Brighton, and Llansteffan as a rich wife to a highly successful and well-connected Victorian merchant. It is not a far leap of the imagination to speculate that Emma’s £500 damages from her breach of marriage to Lucock might have been used to found the Parnall’s substantial business empire.

The newspaper reports show how close the Redit family had been, and how they all testified for Emma and her virtue.  It is perhaps of a consequence of this that when William Parnall was made bankrupt in 1847, his brothers and their wives stuck by him and supported his vast family for many many years.*** The Parnalls and Redits were doubly related with sisters Emma and Mary marrying brothers Robert and William; and they really did look after their own.  When Mary fell on hard times with the bankruptcy of her husband, Emma must have repaid the debt of the sisterly loyalty by financially supporting Mary’s children (and even later, Mary’s grandchildren) through the businesses of Robert and Henry Parnall. They say that revenge is best tasted cold.  Emma certainly did get her revenge on Lucock: the Parnalls became so much wealthier than Lucock could ever have imagined. Emma was far from the gold-digger Lucock accused her of being, as Robert Parnall was not wealthy when they married.  But, she did became fantastically wealthy through the business of her incredibly successful husband.

***My note: October 2014- Since first writing this original article in September 2014 for Worldwide Genealogy Blog, I carried out some further research into William’s bankruptcy and was extremely shocked to discover that the person who sued him for bankruptcy was none other than his wife’s sister’s husband. That is, his own brother-in-law, Marmaduke Drake, husband of the eldest Redit sister, Anne.  This was extremely surprising to me because all my other research had shown that the Parnalls were an extremely close knit family and they looked after their own.  Indeed, Marmaduke’s name appeared in other local newspaper’s accounts on the breach of marriage as giving evidence in favour of his sister-in-law, the jilted Emma.  When William fell into financial hardship, Marmaduke Drake appears to have been the family’s turn-coat, and so William’s own brother-in-law sued him for his bankruptcy!

Grundisburgh churchyard, Suffolk
During my years researching the Parnalls, I have come across many “internet cousins” who have researched various parts of the Parnall story (Although I am the only one to have tracked down Emma Redit’s story and her breach of promise to marry court-case, and William’s bankruptcy). One thing that has always puzzled all of us is why did Robert and Henry Parnall set up a large clothing factory in the rural Suffolk village of Chevington when they were all from Wales? This factory in rural Suffolk, at its height of success in the 1850s, employed over 600 people! That is a tremendous number of people for a tiny rural village, although, most workers were probably women working piece-rate in their own homes.

The story of the Redit sisters from Suffolk and their marriage to the Welsh Parnalls part way gives one explanation why the Parnalls might have set up their clothes-making empire in Suffolk.

But, perhaps even more reason for the Parnall’s connection to Suffolk, is the tiny grave I discovered this summer in the churchyard of Grundisburgh’s parish church  – a tiny grave laid next to the grave of Nathaniel Redit, schoolmaster of Grundisburgh.  Nathaniel, the father of the scandalous Redit sisters, and the husband of the sherry-loving Mary Redit. The tiny grave next to Nathaniel’s is that of an infant, Robert, the eldest child of Robert and Emma (nee Redit) Parnall. Long before their vast riches came their way, their first born child died as an infant, and instead of being buried with his father’s Parnall family in Llansteffan in Wales, was laid to rest in the tiny Suffolk churchyard in Grundisburgh – the home of the Redit family.

Nathaniel Redit
School master in this parish 30 years.
Highly esteemed.
Born 17th July 1778.  Died 8th February 1832.

 

Robert Redit Parnall.
Infant son of Robert & Emma Parnall of London.
Grandson of the late Nathaniel Redit school master of this parish.
Born 16th June 1837. Died 16th January 1838.

 

The taller gravestone of Nathaniel’s overlooking his baby grandson’s grave

It is interesting that Nathaniel was “Highly esteemed“.  With his death occurring just 18 months before his daughter’s Emma’s court case, it could be speculated that his headstone was put up after the court case (perhaps at the time of the infant Robert’s death) and, with his epitaph, the Redit’s were, once again, asserting that they were a respectable family.  The infant Robert’s epitaph also shows that the Redits and Parnalls still considered themselves to be firm respectable members of this small rural community.  Robert Parnall was an extremely shrewd business-man: it might have made considerable financial reasons to have part of his empire so far out of London in rural Suffolk.  But perhaps even more so, he was appeasing his wife, the redoubtable Emma (nee Redit) so she could visit her family still living in Suffolk, and visit the grave of her only child, Robert Redit Parnall.

William John Lucock
Of Emma’s hapless one-time suitor, Lucock (who, according to the newspaper reports was born in February 1810), I now know the following information:***

– His name was William John Lucock.
– He died in 1849 – from the newspaper reports of the trial, it is known he was born in February 1810).  So he was 39 when he died.
– His father was William Lucock, gentleman of Grundisburgh who died in 1831.
– He married Anne (1809-1874) and they lived at Seckford Hall, Great Bealings (Just look at pictures of the Hall to imagine how grand this house must have been when the Lucocks were living here!)

***This is extra information is due to Anne Young – who read my original post on Worldwide Genealogy blog and then researched this extra information about Lucock.

Grundisburgh village through time

The Dog Inn, Grundisburgh.
The location of Lucock’s coming-of-age party when he drunk heavily with Emma’s father, the school-master Nathaniel Redit.  Also the scene of Mary Redit’s tippling of no less than 9 sherries in one session.

 

The village of Grundisburgh on a postcard from the early 1900s – some 70 years after the scandalous events of the Redit women.  The school on this postcard is still there in the village – but now residential apartments and flats.  However, as it was constructed in the Victorian period, this was not Nathaniel Redit’s school.  The village of Grundisburgh is tiny, it is therefore possible that Nathaniel’s school was located in roughly the same position as the later Victorian building.

 

Grundisburgh Church.  Underneath the round tree on the right of this picture lies the remains of Nathaniel Redit and his baby grandson, Robert Redit Parnall.  There is a tree at this location today (probably the same tree as the one in this Edwardian photograph) and this tree has ensured that Nathaniel’s and Robert’s graves are relatively untouched and unmarked from nearly 200 years of standing in a rural churchyard.  Their graves having been protected from the elements was there waiting for me, their direct descendant, to find and finally link together the story of the Parnalls of Llansteffan, Wales and the Redits of Grundisburgh,Suffolk.

Grundisburgh Village today
In late September 2014, following my post on the Worldwide Genealogy blog, I paid another visit to the village of Grundisburgh. The village is beautiful, but tiny. The scandal of the Redits and the Lucocks must have been the subject of gossip from the lowest to the highest in the village during the 1830s. Villagers must have taken sides as to whom they believed. I found it extremely interesting that the Emma’s baby was buried next to his grandfather in the churchyard; and William John Lucock was also laid to rest in the same churchyard a few yards away from the Redit graves. The rivalry and dislike between the two families must have gone on for years after the events of 1831 when Lucock jilted Emma.  But now the two families are reunited in death in the same churchyard.

Grundisburgh
Grundisburgh Parish Church – if you follow the path on the right up to the very end of the church, you will see two large rectangle monuments just by the church.  The monument on the left (very white one, with ivy on it) is the grave of the cad and bounder William John Lucock (1810-1849), his wife Anne (1809-1874), his father William Lucock (died 1831), and (possibly) his mother Mary Lucock (died 1817 aged 63). (I’m not sure if Mary was William John’s mother as Mary would have been 56 when William John was born.  But they are all buried in the same grave – so I’m not sure Mary’s relationship to William John and his father.) The large white monument on the right of the path is to another Lucock – John Lucock (1772-1821) and his wife Susannah (died 1826 aged 47) – John and Susanna were possibly William John’s grandparents. Just beyond John and Susanna’s grave are the two Redit/Parnall gravestones.
Grundisburgh
The hapless William John Lucock’s memorial inscription on the family tombstone
Grundisburgh
Inside Grundisburgh church – looking towards the 14th century rood screen and the altar. In 1833, the gossip must have been rife in this church with all the parishioners gossiping about Emma and her allegedly outrageous behaviour in the village’s boarding school. In my mind’s eye, at the height of the scandal, I can see the matriarch Mary Redit sweeping into Sunday church with her 4 daughters, their husbands, and Emma’s supporters and putting on a massive display that they were the wronged family. From reports of the court case, I cannot for one minute imagine that the Redits hid away at home during the scandal. Sunday church would have been the family’s one significant chance of putting on a great display.
Grundisburgh
Inside Grundisburgh church – looking towards the back of the church and the church’s tower. The picture on the right is an exquisitely beautiful 15th century medieval wall painting – it was only uncovered in the 1950s. Until that time it lay undiscovered as had been white-washed over during time of the English Reformation of the 16th century by the edicts of either Henry VIII or his son Edward VI. The Redits and the Lucocks of the nineteenth century would not have known about the existence of such devotional beauty in their church.
Grundisburgh
Medieval wall painting of St Christopher. Because the painting appears to disappear into the church’s windows, this shows that the windows were possibly added into the church after the date of the painting.
Grundisburgh
15th century baptismal font.
The four Redit sisters – Anne, Mary, Emma, and Francis – were all baptised in this font – as was their mother, Mary Redit (nee Smith)
Grundisburgh
The beautiful, but tiny, village of Grundisburgh.  The building on the left is the Victorian school (now converted to flats) – this is the possibly location of  Nathaniel Redit’s boarding school. Behind the weeping willow is the beautiful parish church.  Behind the photographer, and about 50 paces to the right, is the village pub, The Dog.
Grundisburgh
The Dog Inn. It would have been a short stagger from the pub to Nathaniel’s school in February 1831, when Nathaniel Redit, his wife Mary, along with a newly 21 year old William John Lucock returned to Nathaniel’s school.  Back at the school, they continued the birthday celebrations by tucking into beef steak, whilst William John wrote his incriminating love letters and intention to marry to Emma.

You may also be interested to read these websites
Breach of Promise to Marry: A disturbing case
Breach of Promise to Marry: Various 19th century cases
Breach of Promise to Marry: How jilted brides were portrayed in the press

 



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One Response to The scandalous story of a breach of a promise to marry

  1. M. Houlihan says:

    I found this story from your family’s past fascinating. I once viewed (an unsuitable) house in Grundisburgh, when new to Suffolk and househunting. I have visited the village many times the latest being this afternoon. I discovered this story when looking for old images of the village. I used to work in Bishopsgate, London, many years ago. I am one of the City workers who benefited from your ancestor’s bequest in his will – to maintain the gardens of St. Botolph’s Church garden in Bishopsgate. I was delighted to learn that that lovely little oasis in the middle of the hustle and bustle of our capital city was in part preserved by your ancestor.. and someone who once lived in a beautiful Suffolk village which I enjoy visiting. In fact, I did much of my grieving for my father in St. Botolph’s church yard… in the late summer of 1981 – it was the only place I found peace during my lunch breaks at that time .. when I wanted to reflect and relax in the middle of the working day.

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