Bridgewater ] [ Farnham ] Taunton ]

The Farnham Bicknells.

That these are a branch of the original families in Somerset is unquestionable, and that they brought with them their knowledge of serge and wool-combing, which led to Farnham being an important clothing town till the middle of the I7th century - but at what date this migration from Somerset began I have not ascertained. It is, however, recorded that William BICKNELL was living at Worplesdon, with a garden, in 1493; John BICKNELL at Elstead, near Farnham, in 1524; and Robert BICKNELI., at Farnham also in 1524. William BICKNELL first brought hops to Farnham from Suffolk in 1596, and in 1672 three hundred acres were planted with them, which have increased to three thousand acres to-day. At the end of the 16th century the Farnham BICKNELLS, like their Somerset cousins, continued improving their position. Robert, before 1562, married Eden, daughter of Walter GODMAN Of Otehall, Wivelsfield, Sussex, an ancestor of whom belonged to the Vintners' Company in London, and whose descendants own Park Hatch at Hascombe now (pedigree printed). John COBB of Swarraton, Hants, circa 1580, married a daughter of Thomas BICKNELL, and another Robert BICKNELL married the only daughter and heiress of one FRINSHAM, a wealthy citizen of London and Farnham, who perhaps owned the great ponds and village of Frensharn, giving them his name. The old family of SHAKELFORD, of Hall Place, Shakelford, Surrey (whose manor passed from Sir William de SHAKELFORD (1485-1546) to his two daughters and co-heiresses) also allied themselves with the BICKNELLS, as well as with the BAKERS of Battle (see p. 19).

In 1633 John BICKNELL, of Aldershot, who died in 1635, by Will, dated 26 November, gave the rent of 3s. 4d. a year to repair the parish church of Farnham, two "rent capons" to the collectors of the Farnham poor, and 5s. to the collectors "to be spent at their Pleasure at the eating of them," also 6 a year "for the schooling of six poor and mean men's children, 5s. to buy them books, and 40/- to young unmarried couples." After the amounts had been paid for thirty years the bequest was disputed, probably from the uncertainty who were "the collectors of the poor." A commission decided that the gifts should be paid, except the capons and the 5/- a year, which should go to the residuary legatee, who soon after gave them in trust for the school to G. VERNON Esq. Further he directed that 13s. 4d., the proceeds from lands, should be distributed among poor widows in the parish of Haslemere. The above legacies owing to the increase in the value of money, being worth perhaps eight or ten times as much in 1911. In 1647 another John BICKNELL, of Farnham, bequeathed furniture to his son James, and his house and tenement, garden and orchard to his son John, after the decease of his wife Susan.

Robert BICKNELL, of Farnham, surgeon, who died in August 1648, and was buried near the south church-door in the churchyard, occupied apparently a very good position, and possessed land, concerning which proceedings were taken in Chancery in May 1648 by the guardian of his grandson Robert BICKNELL of Farnham, son and heir of William BICKNELL (the surgeon's eldest son) of Farnham, deceased, and Susan his wife, above mentioned. Amongst the 2000 clergy who left the church by the enforcement of the Act of Uniformity of 1662, was the well-known Rev. William BICKNELL, M.A., vicar of Portsea, Southampton, formerly a student at Magdalen Hall, Oxford. He retired to his native town of Farnham, and preached there, and at Alton, till he died in 1696, having become pastor of the Nonconformists in that locality. Some BICKNELLs became Quakers both in Somerset and Surrey and refused to pay tithes - John BICKNELL, of Seale, 4 miles from Farnham, allowed five cows to be taken by distress rather than hand the church 8 5s., and George BICKNELL, of Sheirc, surrendered a cow worth 2 15s. for the sake of 15s. church rate he would not pay. The women acted as defiantly as the men; Marv BICKNFLL of Elstead, with Geor2.e and jarnes BICKNELL of Farnham, and Thomas FRINSHAM, their relative, were indicted in 1683 at the Kingston Assizes " for six months absence from the national worship," and again in 1685, when "warrants were issued from the exchequer for levying on their respective estates till they came to a proper frame Of mind." I daresay if burning had continued in fashion they would have gone quite cheerfully to the stake rather than listen to any doctrines they did not like.

The fortune of the Farnham BICKNELLS, like that of the Taunton ones, turned very much on an emigration from the country to London, but in the case of the former it occurred at an earlier date, because the cloth trade at Farnham declined sooner than the serge industry in Somerset. Robert BICKNELL, described as "gent" in the local records, as other Roberts often had been, left his native place Farnham and became a lawyer in the Temple, which led to his making a good marriage 9 Dec. 1697, with Elizabeth BAKER, when he was 27. The lady claimed descent from John BAKER, of Battle, 1375, and belonged to a family of some distinction, one of whom had married Philadelphia RIVERS, whose mother was descended from Edward I. The BAKERS had been

cloth or serge manufacturers in Guildford in 1579, and one John BAKER at Glastonbury was a friend of Sir John BICKNELL. Hence the BAKERS and GODMANS, it appears, were long before acquainted with the Farnham and Taunton BICKNELLS.

From about the period of the above marriage the BICKNELLS in Farnham gradually 'left, and now there are only a few of them in humble station scattered here and there in neighbouring villages, but those, the more energetic ones, who migrated to London, soon brought their name conspicuously into notice by their success. Several generations produced eminent lawyers. The second son of Robert BICKNELL (d. 1736) named John, an "attorney at law," lived and died in the Inner Temple and was buried " in the Rounds of the Temple Church," and the grandson of Robert (d. 1736) the son of his eldest son, another Robert, (d. 1781), came also to the Inner Temple and was solicitor to the Woods and Forests Department, whom Lord THURLOW appointed Master in Chancery. He married a Sarah CAMPBELL, Said to be of the clan of the Breadalbane Scots, and was blessed with 16 children, among the seven of whom, who alone survived to mature age, I shall mention three, as follows:

John Laurens BICKNELL (1746-1787), the second son of Robert (d. 1781), barrister and author, was an intimate friend of Thomas DAY, with whom in 1793 he wrote "The Dying Negro," a poem which is said to have had considerable share in exciting the public feeling against the slave trade, and whom he is thought to have assisted in writing 11 Sandford and Merton " (see " DAY," English Cyc. of Biog.). Both these gentlemen becoming admirers of ROUSSEAU's doctrines determined on putting them in practice. Accordingly they obtained, under certain conditions, a brunette girl from the London Foundling Hospital, and a flaxen-haired beauty, 12 years old, from a branch of that Institution at Shrewsbury. The first they called Lucretia, and the second Sabrina Sidney, because Sabrina is the Latin name of the Severn, which flows through Shrewsbury, and Sidney to commemorate the patriot Algernon SIDNEY. DAY undertook to marry one of the two later, or to give her a marriage portion if he changed his mind, and to apprentice and maintain the other if she remained single. They desired especially to educate them on a severe system to strengthen their minds and bodies. To accomplish this the girls were taken to live at Avignon with Mr. DAY. Trouble however, soon began; their tempers and ignorance of French annoyed their guardian; as well as their catching the smallpox, and nearly losing their lives by a boat accident on the Rhine-consequently, after eight months, they came back, and Mr. DAY then declaring Lucretia to be "invincibly stupid" placed her with a rnilliner till she married a respectable draper.

Sabrina he left with BICKNELL'S mother in a small village, and when she was 13 took her to a friend's near Lichfield in order to educate her further in stoicism and endurance. But it was no use, as she persisted in screaming when he fired blank charges in a pistol at her, and would not remain passive if he dropped melted scaling-wax on her arms. He therefore 2.ave up all idea of marrying her, and transferred her to a boarding school in Warwickshire for three years whilst he went abroad. On returning he once more hesitated, for she had become a charming young lady, but again she wanted force of character, he thought, so he provided a home for her near Birmingham in a lady's house, and afterwards at Newport in Shropshire, till she was 25, when John Laurens BICKNELL, his partner in the experiment, who had become a prosperous barrister, obtained DAY's reluctant consent, and married her. DAY gave her 500 on her marriage, according to his promise, and 30 a year when her husband died in three years' time, which Mrs. DAY continued; besides which sums the Bar, through the Solicitor General, subscribed 800 for her. The rest of her life, till she grew quite old, Mrs. BICKNELL passed as assistant to Dr. Charles BURNEY, the famous Greek scholar, in his "Academy" at Greenwich, or with his son succeeding him, and in that town she died, 8 September 1843. Her portrait by S. P. DENNING, curator of Dulwich Gallery, was ,engraved. Sabrina had two sons: the elder one, John Laurens BICKNELL, named after his father, became a solicitor, a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, as well as one of the founders of the Westminster Bank, and Sir John SOANE appointed him a trustee on establishing his museum in Lincoln's Inn Fields. Her younger son, Henry Edgeworth BICKNFLL, held the office, important at that time, of senior Registrar of the Court of Chancery, and retired with a pension of 2,500 a year. He lived to be 91, and when Charles BRADLAUGH, M.P., the notorious agnostic, published a pamphlet called "The Abuses of the Pension List," he began it by stigmatizing this long-lived BICKNELL as a chief robber of public money.

Charles BICKNELL, the third son of Robert, the Master in Chancery (d. 1781), previously mentioned, lived long in Spring Gardens, and was solicitor to the Admiralty. His daughter Maria, without her father's consent or knowledge, married John CONSTABLE, afterwards Royal Academician, a match strongly opposed by her family on the ground that such an obscure artist had no income to support a wife, though after a time friendly intercourse became established again, and the lady received 20,000 under her father's will. CONSTABLE'S pictures, however, never became sought for or valuable during his life. Official letters of Charles BICKNELL are preserved in the British Museum.

Peter, the fourth son of the same Master in Chancery, who, as told, married Mary WIMBERLEY, served as Master of the Mercers' Company in 1790-l, and put up a shield on the wall of the banqueting Hall showing the arms used for generations by both Taunton and Farnham BICKNELLS, though they never were granted by the Heralds' College, and the arms of Sir John BICKNELL, on his tomb at Glastonbury Abbey, were destroyed and lost with the monument. His two sons, Robert and George, also passed the Mercers' chair in 1840-1 and 1834-5 respectively. The former, a solicitor, the Gentleman's Magazine described as "a most upright, able, and generous adviser," and the latter son, George, married Anne Maria BLUNDELL, of the, well-known family who founded BLUNDELL'S School in 1599.

In the next generation, amongst the five children of the last-named George, were Philip Blundell BICKNELL (1818-1904), Senior Captain of the 73rd Highlanders, Deputy Assistant Adjutant-General at Aldershot in 1855-6, Master of the Mercers' Company 1876-7, and afterwards, during forty-five years, Chief Constable of the Lincolnshire Police, who presented him with his portrait by Mr. HERKOMER, R.A., on his retirement; and his younger brother, the Rev. Richard Henry BICKNELL, Vicar of Wroxham, who married Selina BIRCH, descended, she claimed, from John of Gaunt, and sister of Canon Henry BIRCH, tutor to Edward VII.