An Intrigue, a puzzle, a murder?

When I started to research my family tree many years ago, I came across the will of one Robert Casswell. It was a very interesting will in so much as it mentioned several people, his wife, and other relatives. Many of them received only a shilling each, which puzzled me a little. Perhaps, as was often the custom, he had provided for these people in his life, and only mentioned them to clarify that. Or, of course, perhaps these people had annoyed him somehow?

Another intrigue was that he left almost all his estate to a young William Spackman, and he provided for his mother Elizabeth Spackman.

Then there was the question of Robert leaving this Elizabeth his Feather Bed, that wasn’t unheard of as I guess they were quite valuable, as feather beds often came up in wills. But why didn’t he leave his bed to his wife Judith?

There was no issue from Robert and his wife Judith, and he was worth a large fortune, as can be seen by reading the Dispute Of His Father William’s Estate.

There are no clear documents demonstrating his inheritance so far, but it must be said these properties etc. must have been in the family for several generations, going back to Hugh De Carswell in 1297 who was farming in Yatesbury.

William’s great great grandfather Robert was obviously ‘not poor’ and was farming in Yatesbury as his will states –

“Item I give to ye poore of Yeatsburie 5 pounds to be given at ye discretion of my executors”

Unfortunately, several years of church records have gone missing, and it looks as if they refer to the period discussed here. Remember this!

The Cherhill baptism records show William to be the church warden in 1677 and 1686.

The impressive Alter Tomb in Yatesbury reads:-

Here lies the body of Katherine, the wife of William Casswell, who departed this life, December 23rd AD 1704, aged 42 years. Here also lieth William Casswell, her husband, who departed this life August 1706, aged 58 years.

William states,”Wm. Casswell died 25 9 1765 aged 24 , Ann Casswell died 20 jun 1774 aged 36.
Whilst life did last
My wife most dear
A constant love to you I bare
Now for me do no more sorrow take
But love my children for my sake
Washbourn & Casswell tombs

When William Casswell dies in 1786, there appears to be no will, but he did make one as testified in the dispute between relatives, as can be seen in the article -THE DISPUTE OF WILLIAM CASSWELL’S ESTATE.pages.

Now, here is where it all starts to get interesting!

It would appear that the majority of William’s estate eventually fell to Robert Casswell who married Judith Hughes. There were no children from this marriage, and so I would propose to you that our Robert decided he needed an heir, and as things weren’t too congenial with the closest relatives, then he took it upon himself to bed an Elizabeth Spackman. She provided him with a son, christened William Spackman.

It was just by chance that I found his baptism record, tucked in as an ‘afterthought’ on the bottom page of the burial record book, and not in the date order. Very difficult to find, but complying with the law.

William’s marriage to Ann Washbourne was somewhat confusing, and again the church records would appear to have been tampered with.

I engaged a researcher many years ago, and he reported –

Yatesbury records WCC show the marriage by licence of William and Ann Washbourne, both of Yatesbury. Witness to the marriage was Thomas Washbourne.

Roger Mawby, researcher, made the following observations:-
‘I have looked at the fiche of the register, and feel that the register was filled in some time after the event. Because prior to this marriage in the register is one for 1770 and immediately after is one for September 1764. So in view of the baptism of Robert Casswell their son, bapt 29 Apr 1764 and confirmed by the BT’s and by his age at death, I think the marriage must have been 5 Dec 1762 or 3. (I could not find the marriages for this period in the Bishops transcripts (BT’s))’

According to a Washbourn researcher, the Caswell Farm was the largest in the area, named Manor Farm.

The same researcher noted this in Monumental Inscriptions.

“Wm. Casswell died 25 9 1765 aged 24 , Ann Casswell died 20 jun 1774 aged 36.

William (Spackman) Casswell married Ann Washbourne in 5 Dec 1763 at Yatesbury. She was quite a few years older than William, he being 22 and she was 35. She already had a child Mary Caswell Washbourne, and so, presuming the Caswell in her name referred to the child’s father, he was probably William. Their son Robert, was born April 1764. So, it would appear Ann was pregnant when she married Robert. There is no record of Mary Caswell Washbourne’s baptism. Another record missing?

William (Spackman) Casswell died a few months later on 26 Sep 1765. In view of the very young age of this wealthy young man, one has to wonder what killed him. Surely something so tragic would have been mentioned somewhere? Why are all these records missing? Why did the siblings of William (Spackman) Casswell father sue regarding the estate?

Was he killed for the money?

William (Spackman) Casswell’s son Robert died unmarried, with no issue, as far as we can tell (remember some Yatesbury records went astray), but this is probably correct, because he left all his inheritance to his two nieces, Ann & Susannah Washbourn.

Inside the Yatesbury church on a plaque made by Harrisons of Devizes , under the bell tower:-
‘To the memory of Robert Caswell, who died 18th June 1819 aged 55 years – by his nieces Anne LONG and Susanna BANNISTER”.
At this time 30 pounds per annum was a good allowance for a gentleman , so 6000 pounds would be worth approx 300,000 pounds in 1996. A very tidy sum! This money was put to good use and can be tracked in our ‘Follow The Money’ articles.