Project News

We are very pleased to announce that Dr Lesley Hoskins joined the project at the beginning of April. Lesley completed her PhD at Queen Mary in 2011. For her thesis, she worked with household inventories attached to Legacy Duty account forms, as well as wills and information from the accounts themselves, to investigate mid-nineteenth-century domestic cultures. She used a combination of quantitative and interpretive approaches to this material and since joining the project has been bringing these methods to bear on investigations of the death duties and nineteenth-century funeral costs. She will shortly be joining me in populating the wills database.

During this time the project has continued to explore archives relating to the cost of funerals. This topic arose because of changes in the relationships between the amount of money set aside for funeral costs in the probate records and the social status of testators. Of particular interest to the research team has been the records of Attree & Kent, undertakers in Brighton, who kept meticulous often itemised cost of funerals the firm provided in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I have viewed these records at a new archive called The Keep which houses the East Sussex Record Office material alongside collections from the Brighton City Archives and Mass Observation. After a little more research on this firm, an edited version of a working paper about the cost of funerals will be made available online in the early summer.

Lesley immediately started working on data which I collected from Parliamentary Papers at the beginning of the project on inheritance taxes. Number-crunching has revealed that there were significant shifts in state revenue from different duties throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Contextualising these changes in parliamentary reforms and the debates surrounding these reforms is the next stage of the research. A working paper on this topic will also be made available online in the early summer.

Alongside the production of quantitative cohort analysis, which we have mentioned in previous project news updates, the team is developing a series of case studies which illuminate the process of ‘wealth-fare’. As such, David Green and I went to the Birmingham Archives to consult the papers from the Lee Crowder collection which are housed at another brand new community facility, the Library of Birmingham. Unfortunately these solicitor’s papers were not as helpful for the project as we had hoped. As such we are still exploring ways to develop case studies, including the contested cases in records held by The National Archives.

The project members have also been busy attending conferences and workshops which have provided some insights which are helpful to this project. David Green recently attended the European Social Science History Conference in Vienna. Following discussion there, it is hoped that sessions on wealth, inheritance and ‘wealth fare’ will be included in the next ESSHC conference in Valencia in 2016. I attended the Local Population Studies Annual Conference earlier this month. Here I heard a paper by Michelle Bayne-Jardine about wills made during the Black Death in Oxford. It was interesting to learn that many will-making customs had been set into motion very early in British history, and also how, during periods of crisis, people were able to make clear and concise decisions about where their property should go after their demise.

The project members are also planning to participate in several workshops over the course of the summer. Alastair Owens will attend a further INTEGRATE research network meeting in Prague in August, which will once again bring together academics from a multitude of disciplines to discuss asset based welfare. Alastair and I will also provide brief discussion papers at a workshop supported by the Economic History Society on the history of financial advice in July.

Samantha, May 2014

The team have met up on several occasions to talk about the project. The project has  continued to work on building the wills database. We altered our cohort years for the beginning of the twentieth century which meant undertaking further sampling work at the Probate Department. The Probate Calendars are, however, currently housed in courtroom 38 of the Royal Courts of Justice due to building work being undertaken at the premises in High Holborn. This family history blogger provides more information.

I have also been working with Lesley Hoskins (Queen Mary) to understand the cost of funerals in the second half of the nineteenth century. We have been exploring the question of whether Victorians did indeed have lavish funerals or whether, as recent literature suggests, some individuals started to curtail their expenditure.

Back in October Alastair Owens attended the INTEGRATE workshop in Prague. This event brought together scholars from a range of disciplinary backgrounds, including economic, sociology, law, finance and geography, interested in intergenerational wealth transfers. Focusing especially on the concept of ‘Asset Based Welfare’, the meeting involved developing plans for future collaborative research projects. Further information can be found on the group’s website. The organiser of the meeting, Dr Beverley Searle has since published a discussion piece in Discover Society about the problems which have started to appear with the use of real estate as a source of later-life welfare provision.

We were lucky to be able to meet Professor Chantal Stebbings who we invited to King’s College London at the end of November to talk to us about trusts. Trusts were an important mechanism by which wealth could be given to specific beneficiaries at specific times in their life and, should a testator direct that property was sold and invested, wealth could be multiplied after death. From Professor Stebbings we learnt about the use of language in wills, especially indications within a will that it was the intention of a testator to set up a trust.

Over the last month we have found a variety of publicly-available resources about wealth and inheritance which would help family and local historians as well as historians preparing to research or teach the topic. Podcasts provided by The National Archives, recorded from their ‘Lunch Time Talks’ series, are very informative. Links to a selection of these talks, and other resources, have been placed under the ‘Useful Links’ tab of our website. If you know of any other links which are useful and available to the public on this topic, please send us an email or tweet us!

Samantha, December 2013

The team met at the beginning of September to talk about how the project developed over the summer. We have continued to collect data on wealth. The sample of wills for 1856-7 has been found in local record offices and have been successfully read and placed into the project database. Wills created during and after 1858 have been ordered from the Probate Department. Information from these is currently being placed into the database on a regular basis.

A few amendments have been made to the database which will assist us in the analysis of the material, such as the ‘level’ of each bequest, which is usually called ‘substitution’ in contemporary social science studies. If someone left real estate to one individual for life, for instance, but then upon that beneficiary’s decease it was given to another beneficiary, then we would say these bequests are made at level 1 and 2 respectively. If the person designated the real estate at level 2 has deceased, but in the will their children are designated the bequest, then they are assigned a level 3. It is important that we read and analyse details such as these so we understand what desires testators had for their property upon their decease and in different scenarios. Further research in the project will be able to find out what actually happened to their property, illuminating any differences between the desires in the will and the final distribution of property.

Our team members have been busy with disseminating their knowledge on wealth and inheritance over the summer. Alastair provided comment on a report published by a private wealth management company claiming that inheritance was set to become a thing of the past. In late July he also provided expert knowledge of nineteenth-century London for Una Stubbs’ episode of the family history programme Who Do You Think You Are? David acted in a similar capacity, providing information on Charlie Chaplin’s experience of the Lambeth workhouse to one of his decedents on the two-part ITV documentary Secrets from the Workhouse. Finally, I helped answer a listener’s enquiry to the BBC Radio 4 programme Making History about the nature of charity bequests for the poor in rural parishes. We are always keen communicate about our work on the project and information about wealth and inheritance in the past, so please get in touch.

Samantha, September 2013

The project team has been busy over the last couple of months. The majority of our tasks have focused on sampling almost 600 wills and getting the database up and running to input our data. In terms of sampling we have chosen six cohort groups spread across the time period, from 1856 to 1937. The majority of these wills have been sampled from the National Probate Calendars in the Probate Department in London, where copies have also been ordered. Up to 12 January 1858, however, all wills had to be proved by the church and other courts. Therefore, our earliest wills have been found in the probate collections at The National Archives, the Borthwick Institute and a variety of local county record offices. Developing a robust database is an important stage in the project because it requires us to think about what information we would like to capture to analyse later. After several iterations using a handful of wills, we have developed a set of functions which will allow us to record details about bequests and beneficiaries including complex bequest mechanisms such as trusts. In addition to the core research, we have been collecting published information – from academic literature through to novels which have the themes of inheritance and wealth at their core. We have prepared a spread sheet containing a large number of guidebooks, pamphlets and essays about will-making and death duties from about 1850 to 1940, which  I will place online soon as it might be useful to others researching in the same field. These publications can be found in the British Library or at the University Library at Cambridge, as will be indicated . Of course, other editions of these may be available online (such as Google Books) or available to purchase. If you are also studying this topic, and have used these guides or have found different ones, we would be grateful to hear from you. That goes for anything about the project. If you would like to contact us, please use the form on this page or tweet us.

Samantha, June 2013

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