Rev Nevil Maskelyne (1732 - 1811), 5th Astronomer Royal
AND THEIR PURTON / PURTON STOKE CONNECTIONS
The Maskelyne family had been property owners in Purton and Purton Stoke for at least 11 generations. The earliest record of land transfer was to a Robert Maskelynge in Purton, dated 1435, in the reign of Henry VI. Rev. Nevil Maskelyne, Nevil’s grandfather, was born in 1679, and at 18 inherited estates in Purton and the Lordship of the Manor of Cricklade. He lived at West Marsh farm, at the end of Mopes lane, as “Squire” Maskelyne. He was a JP and MP for Cricklade and Wootton Bassett. In 1690, he married Ann Bathe, the daughter of the Vicar of Purton, and they had 11 children in 12 years. In 1706 Ann died and, 5 years later, in 1711 Nevil also died. They are both buried at St Mary’s Church, Purton. Their eldest son, another Nevil, inherited the property at 19, and with his sister Anne, became responsible for the care and education of their 9 brothers and sisters.He obtained an appointment in London as a clerk to the Secretary of State in the Foreign Office. However in 1716 he gave up this post to his younger brother Edmund, sold off West Marsh Farm, the Borough, Hundred and Manor ofCricklade and retired to Down Farm in Purton. Edmund, our Nevil’s father, was baptized at St Mary’s Church in Purton in August 1698, but then lived in London, married Elizabeth Booth, from Woodford, Chester and had four children: William, Edmund, our Nevil the future Astronomer Royal in October 1732, and Margaret. William and Edmund were both baptised in St. Mary’s church. Sadly there is no record for Nevil otherwise he would pass the “Tony Price Test” and be a Purtonian! His father died in 1744 when Nevil was 12. Nevil’s brother William took his BA in 1747, and became a Fellow of Trinity at Cambridge. He was obliged to take up Holy Orders, failed to get a professorship there teaching Hebrew, and retired to Pond’s Farm, Purton Stoke which he had inherited from the Bathe family in 1752. He remained a bachelor,but did father a child, Jane Secker, when he was at Cambridge. His other brother Edmund obtained a commission in the Honourable East India Company at the age of 17. Soon after arriving at Madras he met Robert Clive and they became friends. Edmund also became a matchmaker for his sister Margaret. Clive was intrigued by the letters she sent to Edmund and she was persuaded to travel to India to join him. Within a few months she became Mrs Clive. After his time in India, Edmund came back to this area and bought a house, Bassett Down in Lydiard Tregoze. He died in 1775, also a bachelor, and is buried at St. Mary’s Church Purton. The Maskelynes were active in local life. In the Purton Stoke Poors’ Platt Charity records their names keep appearing as either Trustees or as a Chairman of the Trustees until the 1770s. William Maskelyne of Slyfield Lodge, Braydon Forest testified at the Inquiry in 1733, held in the Bell Inn, to establish that only the poor of Purton Stoke were entitled to the Charity. He also agreed to rent the Platt for 10 years to pay the solicitor’s fees of £223, that the poor had incurred to hold the Inquiry. Maskelynes were also fortunate in acquiring common land in the pasture and arable land Inclosures of 1738 and 1799. Nevil, the uncle received 137 acres and Edmund, his brother, received 47 acres, while Nevil himself received 28 acres. We can return to Nevil’s story now. He studied Classics at Westminster School, but after seeing the eclipse of the sun with a camera obscura in July 1748, applied himself to optics, astronomy, algebra, geometry, mechanics, pneumatics and hydrostatics. In 1748 his mother died. In 1749 he entered Catherine Hall, Cambridge, as a sizar. Sizars received free education but had to earn their keep as servants to the wealthier students. He went on to Pembroke College, then Trinity, taking the Mathematical Tripos and graduated as the seventh wrangler in 1754. He wanted to become a Fellow at Trinity so took Holy Orders in anticipation and became Curate of Chipping Barnet Church in Hertfordshire, officiating at marriages between 1756 and 1763. He sailed to St Helena and Barbados making astronomical observations, working on the lunar method and testing Harrison’ fourth timepiece, the watch, as solutions to the Longitude problem. He presented his findings to the Royal Society and published the British Mariner’s Guide. In 1765 he was appointed Astronomer Royal, continued to make contributions to Astronomy and Navigation, and published the Nautical Almanac for the rest of his life. All of his scientific achievements are recorded in detail elsewhere. He inherited Pond’s Farm on the death of his brother William in 1772 and Purton Down in 1775, when Esmund died. Regular visits to Purton Stoke were made, in autumn in his Berlin carriage, to spend time with his relatives. In 1773 he applied to the King to take 6 weeks leave, (signing his letter as a most obedient and most humble servant) probably to visit Mr and Mrs. Large, who had then become his tenants at Ponds farm. After 1785 his visits would be accompanied by Sophia and their daughter Margaret. He died at Greenwich in 1811 but was brought “home” to be buried at St. Mary’s Church in Purton.
REV. NEVIL MASKELYNE'S WIFE SOPHIA ROSE
Her father was born John Pate in 1723. When he was 12 he inherited a large estate from his uncle John Rose, with the stipulation that he would change his name to Rose when he reached 21.
The Estate included Cotterstock Hall in Northamptonshire with cottages and neighbouring farms in Cotterstock, Glapthorne, Ensor, Oundle and Ringstead, producing a good income of about £500 a year. And so it was that in 1744 by a Private Act of Parliament he became John Pate Rose. He then spent some time in Jamaica, where the Rose family had many holdings, and came back to London where he met Martha Henn. They never married but she bore him two children Letitia, in 1751, and Sophia Rose, in 1752, which he accepted as his. He died on 3rd Novemberin 1758, when Sophia was in her sixth year. In his will he left his entire estate to be divided equally between his two daughters and appointed two Trustees, Sir Thomas Wentworth and Joseph Letch, to administer his property until his youngest, Sophia, reached the age of 21. By that time his property included a sugar plantation with slaves at Mount Hindmost in the parish of Clarendon in Jamaica, (he had just concluded a deal to buy out his partner William Axtell, for J£12,000). It brought shipments of sugar and rum back to England, several times a year and each shipment produced an income of about £500. Martha Henn was given an annuity of £150 a year. Immediately after his death, however, she changed her name to Mrs. Martha Henn Rose. The Trustees carried out their task diligantly. The girls were sent to a boarding school. In 1762 a payment of eight shillings and sixpence was authorised to give the girls' tutor a gift of coffee and chocolate. In 1773 the Trustees handed over the Trust to the two women. The three women now lived together in their London property until Martha died in 1783. In her will published in 1784 she left Letitia HER property, Cotterstock Hall and left Sophia a half share of the other properties which now included a house in Northill, Bedfordshire, and an estate in Ramsey, Huntingdonshire. The Jamaican plantation had been sold by then. As young women with property, their fortunes, i.e. their marriage prospects, changed immediately. Within six months, in July 1784 at St Andrew's Church in Holborn, London, Letitia, at 33, married Rev. Sir George Booth (6th Baronet). He was 60 and a widower of 20 years. A month later at the same church in August 1784 Sophia Rose, at 32, married Rev. Nevil Maskelyne, who was now 51 years old. Nevil and Sophia had one daughter, Margaret, a year after their marriage. Margaret was an accomplished artist. Amongst others she made sketches of the Dame School in Purton Stoke and Purton House. After Nevil died Sophia came back to the area, to Bassett Down to stay with her daughter, who had inherited that property, until her death in 1821. She is also buried at St. Mary's Church.