Francis Peck, my great grandfather

Francis was born in Barton le Clay in Bedfordshire and he was baptised in St Nicholas parish church on 16th October 1814. He was the first child of William Peck and his wife Anne (nee Clark).

William and Anne had married in that same church on Christmas Day 1813. There were a number of Peck families in the Barton and Shillington area of Bedfordshire; probably they were all distantly related. Although Francis’ father William was actually born in Essendon in Hertfordshire, we think that his family probably belonged to Shillington.

The Barton parish records show Francis’ baptism and his father’s occupation, a bricklayer, which has been altered from ‘labourer’ at the time the record was made. Many of the Pecks in this corner of Bedfordshire were bricklayers and obviously proud of it.

Young Francis lived with his growing family of brothers and sisters in Barton until about 1823 when they all moved to Hexton in Hertfordshire. Although it was a move over the county boundary, Hexton is only a short distance along the road from Barton. Four more children were born here, until by 1834 there were nine children in the family.

By this time, of course, the older ones were grown up. Francis was a witness to his brother David’s wedding in St Faith’s church, Hexton in May 1834. No doubt in such a small village all the young people were friends together because later the same month he witnessed the marriage of another couple. However, Francis stayed at home with his parents and six younger siblings. They are all there in Hexton on the night of the 1841 census.

In December 1841 Francis’ sister Sarah married John Seymour at St Faith’s and once again Francis was a witness. The other witness was Arabella Leach, Francis’ future wife, who had been born and brought up in Hexton. Francis and Arabella were married at St Faith’s on 10th September 1843. Sadly their time together was short as Arabella died giving birth to their son in March 1844. Little William Thomas Peck was baptised at St Faith’s on 17th March 1844, three days after his mother’s burial. The child was probably cared for by Arabella’s sister, Mary Olney, but sadly he also died, in April 1846, aged just two years.

Francis continued to live in Hexton and in 1849 he married Mary Ann Fitzgerald. They were married at the Salem Chapel in nearby Hitchin on 21 February 1849. Francis was 34 and Mary Ann was 30. She was the daughter of Thomas Fitzgerald who was the gardener at Hexton House. His employer obviously thought highly of him, as he put up an elaborate gravestone in his memory when he died just one year after the wedding.

Around this time Francis and Mary Ann moved to Ampthill, Bedfordshire. They took with them Mary Ann’s sister, Anne, who was ten years younger than she was. Perhaps Anne was alone in the world after the death of their father. They are recorded in 1851 in Dunstable Street, Ampthill not far from the Engine and Tender public house. Francis was still a bricklayer and his wife and sister-in-law were dressmakers.

However, not long after this Francis acquired a small shop and thereafter his occupation is recorded as shopkeeper or grocer. Perhaps they had a little money spare to start this venture. There were three adult wage earners in the household and Mary Ann had no children.

Unfortunately Mary Ann became ill with TB and in 1859 she died. Francis continued to run his shop on Dunstable Street and his sister-in-law remained with him as housekeeper. He was probably a member of the Methodist Chapel in Ampthill. It was here that his future wife, Sarah Hill, was baptised as an adult in 1851. At the time she was working as a servant in the house of George Rushbrooke who owned a large drapers and furnishing shop in Ampthill.

Francis and Sarah were married on 14th August 1861 at the Maulden Meeting House. One of the wedding witnesses was Anne Fitzgerald his late wife’s sister. Francis was now 47 and Sarah was ten years his junior.

In 1862 their first child, Lila, was born. It must have been a time of great joy for them both, as rather older parents. Times of joy and times of sorrow were to follow as more children came along. Liza was born in January 1864 but sadly only lived one month. Next came Francis Mnason Peck in January 1865 but he died in April the same year. In April 1866 Hadassah Arabella was born but sadly she too died, aged six months. The next child was named Hadassah Anne, born in 1867. She may have had a disability from birth which eventually claimed her life in 1872, aged 5 years.

A few months before Hadassah died another son was born. He was named Francis William, born on 17th June 1872. He was my grandfather!

At the ages of 56 and 46 Francis and Sarah had produced a healthy son. He must have been especially precious to them. They are recorded on the 1881 census living together in the same house near the Engine and Tender in Dunstable Street and running the grocery shop. Lila is living nearby at the house of her employers, working as a draper’s assistant. When he reached working age young Frank (as Francis William was known) began a lifelong working association with George Rushbrooke’s Drapery and Furnishing store.

He eventually became Managing Director when the store was renamed Frank Peck and Co. Ltd. Little did his mother know in 1851 when she worked as a servant in George Rushbrooke’s house!

Francis lived until he was 76 and died on 4th November 1890 but not before he had seen his first grandchildren. Lila had married William Abbiss in 1883 and had daughters Winifred and Edith before her father died. In his will Francis left everything to Sarah, a total of £187 5s 0d. Interestingly the will had been written soon after his marriage to Sarah in 1861 and one of the witnesses was Anne Fitzgerald, his sister-in-law.

Sarah had a headstone put up in Ampthill churchyard for Francis. The inscription was as follows:

In loving remembrance of
Francis Peck who died November 4th 1890
aged 76 years
Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord
Also four children who died in their infancy.

The children were, of course, Sarah’s children. Perhaps she did not even know about little William Thomas who had died over 44 years before. Sarah herself did not long outlive Francis and died on 14 February 1892. Their son Frank was 19 by this time and for many years lodged with the White family in Dunstable Street until his marriage to Mildred Coleman in 1907 and a long and happy life in Ampthill.

Before I started researching my ancestors we knew almost nothing about Francis Peck. I found his life so touching and wanted to write a permanent record about him, my great grandfather, who we never knew.

Anne in Carlisle

©Anne in Carlisle

Footnote: Mnason and Hadassah are names found in the Bible.