The First Lady of Lyndon - The Letters of Mary Barker (1655-79)


We are grateful to Sue Howlett and the Rutland Record for allowing us to reproduce this article.

Rutland Record 19 (1999) contained an article entitled ‘A Country Wife: Anne Barker of Hambleton (1646-47)’. The domestic life of Anne and Abel Barker, vividly recounted in her letters, was cut tragically short by her death eighteen months after marriage. Abel Barker, High Sheriff of Rutland, and a rising man under both Commonwealth and Restoration governments, found himself with a motherless infant heir to provide for. In this sequel to that article, the less literate letters of his second wife are supplemented by Abel Barker’s detailed record-keeping (all contained in the Barker MSS at the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland, DE 730). Together these tell a story of social advancement, marital chidings, local gossip, sick children, estate management and the building and furnishing of the grand new house at Lyndon.

Second Marriage

As an eligible widower, the upwardly mobile Abel Barker made no haste to fill the gap left by the death of his lamented wife Anne. England was in turmoil, although the execution of King Charles I leaves no record among the letters so meticulously copied into Abel Barker’s letter book (DE730/4). Often addressed to fellow members of Rutland’s Parliamentarian County Committee, these chart concerns with taxes and rents, land deals and local intrigues. Influential acquaintances and relatives on both sides of the political divide were carefully cultivated.

On a more personal note, he informed his mother-in-law, Lady Frances Burton, in December 1654:
“I cannot find in myself any inclination to alter (as yet) my present condition.” Yet seven months later he had two prospective brides in view. A few days before the rejection of his hand by Rebekah Parsett, Abel wrote to Geoffrey Palmer Esquire on 21 July 1655:

Sir, I am very sensible that being most obliged unto you of all others, I have not been so happy as to make any acknowledgement answerable: the consideration of this hath caused me to reflect upon your relations, and to place my affections upon your niece my neighbour. I hold it my duty to intimate so much unto you, as the author of that happiness I propose to myself therein...

(DE 730/4 224)

Mary Noel of Whitwell was an astute choice. When the political climate changed, her family connections brought valuable benefits to the aspiring local dignitary. Geoffrey Palmer was to become Charles I I ’s Attorney General; his sister had married Alexander Noel, youngest brother of the first Viscount Campden (Wright 1684, 109).

The financial transaction was a crucial aspect of marriage. Abel Barker, negotiating this time for himself, modestly requested the sum of £1500 as his new wife’s jointure, the same sum as that so painstakingly obtained by his mother from Sir Thomas Burton nine years earlier. No letters appeared to have passed between the engaged couple, although the unsettling legal changes caused the male participants some anxiety. In 1653 the Republican parliament’s new Marriage Law decreed that civil marriage was required in a magistrate’s presence, without which a church ceremony alone was invalid. Among Abel Barker’s papers, this civil marriage certificate survives (fig. 1). It records that on 6 September 1655, two days after the burial of his first father-in-law, Abel and his bride: “came before me Evers Armyne Esquire one of the Justices of peace for the county aforesaid at Ketton in the said county and were then and there married according to the form of the statute in that behalf provided...”

(DE 730/1 43).

For the new bride and her young stepson in the substantial farmhouse at Hambleton (now known as the Old Hall, fig. 2), life must have been relatively comfortable. Abel Barker was a man of cultivated tastes, having recently requested a London relative to: “buy me a book called Pembroke’s Arcadia lately reprinted with the life of Sir Philip Sidney the author” (JTIMC, Appendix to the Fifth Report, 394). Such treasured possessions, or clothes and household linen, may have been kept in the wooden wall-cupboard in the principal bed-chamber, which still today records in its carved design the year of Abel’s marriage to his first wife: 1646. All luxury goods and most clothes had to be ordered from London, where they might be purchased by a reliable agent or friend, and sent to Hambleton, often by the Uppingham or Harringworth carrier. On 25 May 1656 Abel Barker ordered 30 bottles of various wines to be sent from London, for which he paid 44 shillings, as well as £3 8s for a boy’s suit (HMC V, 395).

The renewed blessings of marriage did not keep Abel Barker permanently at Hambleton. His expanding estate of owned and rented lands, with the thriving sheep and wool business, were managed in his frequent absences by his brother Thomas or neighbour and agent, John Musson. The majority of letters which Abel later copied into his letterbook were written at Hambleton, but his wife’s letters confirm a record of frequent visits to London and the accommodation at which he could be found. In Autumn 1656 Abel may have attended the Court of Chancery, where in one of several lawsuits he challenged the terms of Sir Thomas Burton’s will. Always sharp in financial affairs, he no doubt wished to improve the prospects of his son, Burton’s grandson, although the letterbook does not record details of the legal outcome.

Mary Barker’s original letters were kept among her husband’s papers, rather than surviving only in copies as those of his first wife. Her handwriting is looped and flowing, cursive in contrast to her predecessor’s clear italic hand, but the spelling is more erratic and often requires phonetic interpretation. For example “an nower” (fig. 3) must mean an hour, while in the letter below “suckess in your beseness” indicates appropriate wifely concern. Paper was a precious commodity, and Mary’s letters normally fill a single sheet, with frequent additions and afterthoughts compressed into the margin. Mary’s first extant letter, addressed to her husband “at Mr Brassington in Clement’s Churchyard”, [London], is dated 10 May 1656. Its contents imply that pregnancy had quickly followed the wedding. [For reasons of clarity all extracts from original letters have been modernised in their spelling and punctuation.]

Dear Heart
I hope you got safe and well to London, and by this time are ready to return to her who mourns for your absence. Hambleton is a sad place without your dear company. I trust to God you will stay no longer than needs you must. My daily prayers are to God for your health and safe return to me. It is out of the earnest desire I have to manifest my dear affection to you that makes me trouble thee with this. God send you good success in your business. I remain, your faithful loving wife, Mary Barker

[P.S. along side of page] Remember to buy me some sherry of amber. I pray you buy me a laced pinner and coif of the new fashion for myself and l would have a satin mantle for my child to christen it in, let it be either blue or red satin which[ ever] you can best get and laced with a broad silver lace and lined with sarsnet. You might buy it cheaper than I can get anybody [to] do it for me, if you have time. If not, stay not to do it, and I will send afterwards to somebody.
[P P.S. at bottom of page] I received your letter after I had written this which hath rejoiced my heart to hear you are well. All our friends are well and present their service to you.

(DE 730/1 45)

The fashionable “pinner and coif’ requested by Mary were a close fitting cap with two long flaps, one on each side, pinned on and hanging down. The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary records the appearance of “pinner” in 1652, four years before this letter. Her expected child’s cloak was to be lined with sarsnet, the “thin soft textile with slight sheen” which Anne Barker had purchased a decade earlier for new bed-hangings at Hambleton.

A brief letter sent in October 1656 indicates Mary’s happiness in her marriage. After the greeting “Dearest Heart” she exults: “It joys my heart to see how well I am beloved of you...” (DE 730/1/46A). By May of 1658 Abel was once again in London, with his brother Thomas, and staying at the Rose in Smithfield. Back in Hambleton, Mary, now the mother of a younger Mary, is troubled by a minor domestic problem:

I pray you, buy me a bell to ring up the maids to me out of the kitchen for I cannot make them hear call [I] never so loud. I will trouble you with no more for fear of hindering your return... Mall [Mary] presents you with her duty by, dear Heart, your truly loving wife Mary Barker.

(DE 730/1 72A)

The end of the 1650’s, and with them Cromwell’s Protectorate, brought anxious times in Rutland. Abel Barker’s links with parliamentarians were well known, although his extended correspondence with the regicide Colonel Thomas Waite had used a discreet code of initials rather than names. However, there is no evidence of Abel ever having borne arms against the king. His growing wealth and local status, reinforced by newly acquired connections with the Royalist Noels, secured his continued respect. Early in 1660 Abel Barker was serving as Treasurer for Rutland, being requested by a local magistrate to pay 20 shillings to an Oakham carpenter, Thomas Crampe, suffering from leprosy (HMC V, 403). With the Restoration imminent Abel took care to confirm his political reliability. The preserved copy of a ‘Loyal Address’ to Charles II, in Abel’s handwriting and signed with the names or marks of 51 Rutland villagers, suggests that he was working hard to demonstrate his allegiance to the Stuart dynasty. With elections to a new parliament and the fiery Royalist, the second Viscount Campden, installed as the first Lord Lieutenant of Rutland (as distinct from Leicestershire and Rutland), Abel had to act quickly to deny rumoured accusations of disloyalty:

For Captain Sherard
Sir, I perceive by your letters to my Lord Campden that you question the integrity of my intentions, in performing the agreement made before his lordship... For a gentleman in his own country and before the chiefperson there, to be accused with breach ofpromise, labouring for voices and subtle designs, is a heavy charge: wherein although I doubt not but time the tryer of truth will soon chart my innocence, yet I shall not I hope seem offensive to you, in requesting you will please to produce that letter of information you received last Tuesday, or acquaint me with the author and contents thereof.. Hambleton, 16 March 60
[1661, New Style]

(DE 730/4 283)

Ten days later Abel was nervously reassuring his father-in-law that he fully supported Lord Campden’s son in the elections to the Cavalier Parliament. It was crucial to maintain the good will of the Noels and Sherards, dominant families under the new dispensation: in 1661 Edward Noel, later to be Earl of Gainsborough, achieved the desired election as Knight of theShire together with Philip Sherard (Wright 1684, Additions XVI). But by August of that year Abel felt secure in his reputation and financial prospects. Looking around for a good investment, he heard that the desirable manor of neighbouring Lyndon might be on the market:

For Mr Wray a Scrivener between the Two Temple Gates.
Sir, When I was last in London you was pleased to let me know, Mr Audley intended to part with his land in Lyndon, and that you should understand his resolution therein this vacation. You have now had the opportunity to do the same, and if you shall do me the favour to acquaint me therein, you will oblige……. yours etc
     A. B. Hambleton 12 August 1661

(DE 730/4 286)

While Abel was protecting and enhancing his interests within the county community, Mary now found herself the harassed mother of three young daughters, Mary and the twins Thomasin and Elizabeth. Her letter of 26 May 1661, addressed to Abel “at the Dog and Ball in Fleet Street near the New Pageant” contains a postscript longer than the letter itself:

My Dearest Heart, I am very glad to hear of your safe arrival to town. I hope the journey with the good company you had up, hath put by that distemper you was troubled withall a little before you went. 1 am in a sad condition for my poor children who are all so troubled with the chin cough [whooping cough] that I am afraid it will kill them. There is many die on it, in this town some, and abroad that we hear of I am fain to have a candle stand by me to go in to them when the fit comes, for it will stop their wind which frights me so I know not what to do.
We are all in great danger of the smallpox, more now than ever, for Ealse Neckealls
[Elsie? Nicolls?] hath it. She was almost well before they came out, so that we did not fear any such thing, but all my servants went which troubles me, for I fear some of them may have it, and then you may think what danger I and my poor children are in. It is sad weather here, nothing but floods every day or every two days since you went. I can give you no better account of anything here at this time but pray we may be in a better condition by the next, and remain thy truly loving wife
M Barker…
[P. S. along side of page] Sam did not bring any bales as you writ of stir as he will about it. I desire to have the children ‘s stockings and gloves and some skins sent down the next week for I am in great need of them, but for anything else you may let it alone till you come down. My service to my brother Andrew and my brother Barker. I will have one pair of shoes for Thomasin. Since I wrote my letter, the waters being out that the carriers could not come, so my letter was here till night, and then Nan Palland came running to me for her mistress. She is very weak and keeps her bed. I went [on] horseback and it was [?] so that I was like to be drowned, and since 1 came up she hath sent again to me that [they] are afraid she [might] die tonight. I dare not go from my children all night but I have sent for my sister Colling [Abel’s sister Thomasin Collin of Great Easton] I know not what to do in these troubles now you are away. I doubt your mother will not live another week.

(DE730/1 53)

Despite Mary’s fears for her mother-in-law’s health, Mrs Elizabeth Barker lived on to appear in the 1665 Hearth Tax records with her home in Hambleton of five hearths, a considerable property although half the size of her son’s home. In answer to Mary’s urgent summons, her next letter of 2 June 1661 records the arrival at Mrs Barker’s of”my sister Colling..., my sister Goodman [Abel’s sister Elizabeth] and my brother Greene [the husband of Abel’s sister Mary].” Clearly the family were anxious for the weak condition and fluctuating strength of the matriarch. Smallpox was still rife in the neighbourhood, but Mary informed her husband with relief that the family remained free of the disease, although:

My poor children are all sadly troubled with the chin cough. Mall is much the worst. They have such fits that it stops their wind and puts me into such frights and fears that I am not myself.. I have my share of troubles in the world and always the worst in your absence...

(DE 730/1 54)

One of these troubles concerned her mother-in-law’s servant, Mall Rit [Wright?] who is described as “so cross a creature, I did not know what she might do... your mother would not endure the sight of her.” The offending Mall arrived with her clothes to stay at Abel’s home, to his wife’s great annoyance: “She is a bad creature, but I will let all alone till your return.”

A few weeks later, on 30 June 1661, Abel Barker was again in London although his lodgings this time were “the Rose in Smithfield near the pens.” In this letter Mary reports on family news and enigmatic gossip:

My Dearest Heart I hope you are safe arrived to town on Saturday night. I desire to know if you reached thither in that day and half My children 1 thank God are all so well as you left them. The pox doth increase amongst the children very much. I pray God keep ours from it if it be his will Here Sam Barker’s wfe [formerly E Wildbore, wife of Abel’s cousin Samuel, whose home at South Luffenham was recorded in 1665 as having seven hearths] came of Saturday to me with a great many stories of what the bone-setter should say to her, and other business besides of her husband and Pridmer [Hugh Pridmore of South Luffenham?], but I would not meddle for making any difference with her and her neighbours. All I said was that I was very sorry I gave her that trouble, to be speaking of to her disparagement, for I held her a discrete person or I should not a [have] come to her house in that condition. She tells me she heard out of Derbyshire that my cousin Barker is to be married to one of their country again, he hath a great estate, one Sir John Corston’s son. This is all the news here at present. The little ones present you with their duty by, dear heart, thy truly loving wife MBarker.

(DE 730/1 55)

From the noisy and probably smelly vicinity of the Smithfield pens, Abel Barker moved his London lodgings within a week to the “Flower de Luce [Fleur de Lys] and Crown over against St Clement’s Church door in the Strand”. During this stay in London, the occasion when he probably first heard of the possibility of purchasing land at Lyndon, Abel was able to make use of the new postal service to communicate with his family in Rutland. In 1662 the first Royal Mail was officially launched, with services out of London from a central post office, carried by post horses, post or public coaches, or carriers’ carts. According to Liza Picard, Restoration London, 1997, the service took between 3 and 25 days, with a charge made on delivery. Mary’s reply to this address is dated 5 July 1661:

My dearest Heart,
I received your letters by the post and give you thanks for them. I thank God my children are a great deal better than they was when you went. The chin cough hath left them, but a dry cough it hath left on them all, which troubles me for fear of their lungs. I desire a paper of lozenges for them, and a pair of stockings for Thomasin and a pair of shoes for them both, some perfumes for the chambers and one pair of long white Holland
[fine linen] gloves for myself These things I desire if you have money, if not I shall be content. Bell is as raggedy as a beggar boy, I pray you let him have a suit. I am sorry I hear nothing of your coming down, I doubt you will want a shirt very much. I am in haste and the hot weather makes me write so ill 1 am to go to my father’s to see some friends before they go into Yorkshire this afternoon. We have not done sheep clipping yet, John hath spoken to one to learn [teach? or possibly learn from] the shepherd how to cut [shear] the sheep. The children present you with their duty by, Dear Heart, thy truly loving wife M Barker.

(DE 730/1 56)

In October 1661 Abel Barker was at home in Hambleton, receiving news from Mary’s uncle, Geoffrey Palmer, that Hugh Audley was ready to sell Lyndon and would demand around £9400, £500 more than he had paid for the land. As newly appointed Attorney General to Charles II and recently knighted, Sir Geoffrey Palmer’s influential position must have offered useful connections which his Rutland relation would not be slow to exploit. The following letter of 16 February lacks a year to date it precisely, but references in that and the next to the purchase of Lyndon suggest the following year, 1662 [New Style, being before the former start of the year on 25 March]. Abel was now using the address of Sir Geoffrey Palmer’s “old chamber in the Temple Churchyard”, where the following plaintive missive arrived:

My Dearest Heart, I am glad to hear you have had your health so well, pray God it may so continue. I did verily believe I should have heard of your coming down this week, I think it a long time since I see you. I hope it is the troublesome business that detains you from me and my children [and] you will make all things sure at this [?] I hope, being you take so large a time. I hope you will satisfy yourself in your stay, that you have not made more haste than good speed, as sometimes formerly you have said, which is the reason 1 do not desire you to come down to us, as I have done, for fear of a chiding. I would be loth to have you angry at your return, as you was at your departure, for that hath been trouble to me ever since. I must desire you, if you cannot come down the next week, to send me some stuff to make me [a] gown or let me know if I should send for one to Hart. [Tailor employed by Mary Barker, see letter of 17 May 1670.] Truly this is all [in] pieces, so that I cannot wear it another week. I was never in so ragged a condition in all my life. [It] matter not how plain it is, so 1 have something to keep me warm. I am in a threadbare condition more ways than one. I desire by all means a printed calico frock for Mal. [Mary, the Barkers’ eldest daughter, was then aged six. In the 17th century, calico was cloth with welt of Indian cotton and warp of linen.] It is reported all over the country how that you was sent for up by the Duke [probably George Villiers, second Duke of Buckingham, owner of Burley on the Hill and favourite of Charles II]. My brother Alexander came to me [on] purpose to know if it was so, because he was so often asked about it. You may think these things are no small trouble to me, being they concern one so near to me as you are. I will not trouble you nor myself any more with the town ‘s business, let them do what they will, there is enough of them with you by this time. I sent you a letter by Mr Foulker [probably one of the Fawkener family of Uppingham, with whom Abel Barker had on occasions corresponded], I hope you have it. I hope God will give me patience in all conditions and make me contented with what falls out. I have this comfort so long as I have children, though I am deprived of your company. I am not without while I have them which is all I desire in your absence, who is your truly loving wfe, MBarker. [P.S.] Let us know if Lamples shall be ploughed before you come home or not. [according to EPNS 1994, 187, a field named Lamp Layes was recorded in 1661, with later variant spellings.] Though I heard not a word from you about Lyndon, yet I was told there was but four hundred pound betwixt you and Audley, Mr Cost said he would write to you if he knew where you lay, to let you know there was one of their four[?] would buy Lyndon if you would not, one that hath many thousand pounds lately fallen to him. This he said to my man Sam last Friday. I thought good to let you know this. I hope you will not forget me, in this business. I shall refer myself to you. I pray God send you good success in all your business, for you have many irons in the fire at once.

(DE 730/1 58)

Presumably Abel Barker had personal reasons for not sharing with his wife news of the progressing plans to purchase Lyndon jointly with his brother Thomas. Mary, however, had concerns of her own. As the daughter of a younger branch of an ennobled family, she must have been keenly aware of the importance of adequate financial provision for her three daughters, since the heir to the estate would obviously be her stepson, Thomas. The following letter, addressed again to her husband at “Sir Geoffrey Palmer’s old chamber”, reveal Mary’s fears for future security, amid a profusion of more immediate domestic crises. Although undated, its postscript suggests a date of February 1662:

My Dearest Heart, I received your letters by the post and return you thanks for the satisfaction you have given me therein. I hear you’re in a manner agreed about Lyndon, and that you’re like to buy it. 1 wonder I should never hear anything from you of it. I much desire to know [if] it be so. Not that I shall desire anything therein for myself but desire you to have a care of my children. You know what is best to prefer daughters. If you put all into land, I desire you will take care how they shall be provided for out of that, if God should cut off you and I before they are of age. This is all I desire. This day hath been so turbulent a wind that it hat/i done a great deal of hurt abroad, and us more than ever we had. All the rails are blown down in the court on both sides, and the out hovel down to the ground. The wagon is broke a [in] pieces that stood under it. The hay is blown all [out of?] the hovel, and the thatch off the outhouses, and a great deal of hurt in the field. ft is a great flood, it hath been the saddest weather for a day and a night that ever I knew in my life. I was forced to rise in the morning by day and take up my children and carry them into the kitchen to be dressed. The wind broke the windows and beat in the rain so that we could not stay above. I am not very well so that I cannot write any better. I desire two frocks for the twins, of printed calico, and one for Mall, for the Spring is coming on and the other will be too hot. They are very necessary for them and cheap, so that I hope you will buy them. Thus in haste I remain your truly loving wife M Barker. [P.S. along side of letter] I draw you for my Valentine and choose you, I forgot to send you word in my last...

(DE 730 1 58A)

After long Puritan years of austerity, the marking of Valentine’s Day, with other annual festivals, was revived at the Restoration. In the same year that Mary Barker belatedly selected her husband, Samuel Pepys wrote on February 14th: “I did this day purposely shun to be seen at Sir W. Batten’s, because I would not have his daughter to be my Valentine, as she was last year ...“ (Pepys, i 226).

While Mary Barker fretted about her children’s health and Abel with his brother Thomas negotiated to purchase the Lyndon estate, others saw Abel Barker as an influential figure on the Rutland scene. Two letters survive in the Barker archives from Abraham Wright, of the “poor old Beadhouse of Oakham” who sent gifts of quinces (for marmalade) and grapes, grown in Oakham. Hugh Ducie, newly appointed Sheriff of Rutland, wrote in 1661 to thank Abel Barker for advice in undertaking the role and for assistance to one of their mutual friends.

During the 1660s Abel Barker served as Justice of the Peace, and also as one of “His Majesty’s Commissioners for the money to be raised by a poll within the county of Rutland”, responsible for levying taxation subsidies in various years. His brother-in-law Andrew Noel was the Officer responsible for the 1665 Hearth Tax registers (Rutland Hearth Tax, RRS 1991, 45). The Barker correspondence contains many examples of warrants to chief constables of various parishes for the collection of taxes, with schedules of parish assessments and individual payments. Among the surviving letters is one from the Lords of the Treasury dated 1667, demanding of all Rutland’s Commissioners and J Ps more efficient collection of the Hearth Tax, which not surprisingly had proved unpopular. In the same year the Privy Council wrote to urge stricter enforcement by Rutland’s magistrates of the laws against “all persons making, or striving to make, converts to the Roman Catholic faith” (HMC Appendix to 5th Report, 404).

Before Mary Barker’s next letter to her husband was written, a significant change had taken place in the family fortunes. On 19 September 1665, having proved his loyalty and usefulness to the Stuart regime and his growing status in the county community, Abel Barker was created a Baronet, the lowest hereditary order. His coat of arms (Fig. 4 ) is described as “Party nebulé or and azure three martlets counterchanged.” The baronetcy survived only two generations, becoming extinct when Sir Abel Barker’s son Thomas died without issue in 1708 (Burke 1838, 37).

This welcome advancement must have been a considerable spur to Abel Barker and his brother Thomas in building suitable new homes on their recently purchased manor of Lyndon. The new Baronet looked forward to moving his family from the now outmoded farmhouse at Hambleton to the far grander Lyndon Hall, influenced by the impressive Thorpe Hall outside Peterborough, built during the 1650s in the new classical style. The ten-year building programme, frequently delayed as Mary records in her letters, meant that it was not until 1677 that Sir Abel Barker and his Lady Mary were able to take up residence at Lyndon. Abel’s untitled brother, Thomas, probably had to be content with the slightly more modest ‘Top Hall’, built at Lyndon a few years earlier.

No Barker letters survive from the years 1665-6, which might cast a personal light on the impact of events such as the Great Plague or Great Fire of London. In 1670 when correspondence resumes, Lady Mary was still concerned about the poor state of her wardrobe:

For Sir Abel Barker Baronet at Mr Pawlin’s, a shoemaker in the Strand between the Maypole and St Clement’s Church, London. My Dearest Heart I am very glad to hear you have my letters, I was much troubled at it. I would have you to make a black suit, by all means, for you want one [as] yours is quite out. It will serve you at other times as well as now. I would not, if I could avoid it, meet the body of my uncle, [presumably Sir Geoffrey Palmer, who died in 1670] by reason I have nothing handsome to go in at such a time. I believe we shall not be invited. I will do what you will have me, therefore consider what you think best, and let me know, and I will follow your directions. Will’s sister Betty is extremely ill, some think she will die. It is all for John Bell, he hath quite [thrust?] her off for ever as i hear, he goes three times a week to Sue Sison. [John Bell was listed in the 1665 Hearth tax as owning one hearth at Hambleton, although his rejected and preferred ladies cannot be identified!] Mr Hull hath been very sick, he is now something better. [Richard Hull, appointed Rector of Lyndon by Abel and Thomas Barker in 1662, died during 1670. Longden’s Northamptonshire and Rutland Clergy, 1940, admits some confusion between a Richard Hall, Rector of Lyndon, and Richard Hull, Rector of Pilton who also died in 1670.] If he be well this morning, he is set forward with his daughter, who was here to see me last week, and a great deal of company, so that I am quite without wine or sweetmeats. Your brother was here yesterday and my brother [Andrew Noel] and his wfe and other company. There is a great deal of talk at Exton of my uncle [Viscount Campden?] as my brother tells me, but I will not commit such things to paper, by [fear?] of miscarrying. Pray buy Mall and I our Indian gowns by all means. I leave to you wholly the putting me in mourning clothes [which] will be very troublesome to me this summer. A plain Farrendine gown and petticoat of the same is mourning with black knots, therefore if you please let my suit of knots be black with a pair of gloves and a [?] which is all at present from her that is your truly loving wife, M Barker. Hambleton, May 16. [No year given, but probably 1670] [P.S. along side of page] Pray excuse me for the man is in haste and l cannot write well at this time.

(DE 730/1 72)

The Farrendine gown which Mary intended to wear as mourning for her uncle was a cloth of silk and wool. The ‘suit of knots’ to decorate it was a set of ribbon bows applied to a gown or sometimes worn on the head. (Cunnington and Beard, Dictionary of English Costume, London 1960). Mary was anxious to know the appropriate and fashionable mourning style of the time, since in a subsequent letter to the same address, dated 17 May 1670, she added further details to the requested purchases. It is interesting that, following Abel’s obvious reluctance to share details of the purchase of Lyndon with his wife, her letters appear solely concerned with domestic and traditionally feminine interests:

My Dearest Heart My brother [Andrew] Noel being sent for up by [?] to wait on the corpse down, I take this opportunity to desire you, to let my gown be a plain black Farrendine gown and petticoat, not French, but such as I had before, and that my suit of knots may be black satin with a peak, and a pair of sad coloured gloves, and a twisted roll for my head laced with black satin ... which is the fashion for mourning this summer. My Lady Mackworth [of Empingham and Normanton] told me so, the Ladies at Whissendine [the Sherrard family] are so [?] and Miss Mackit told me the like, last Sunday, who came on purpose to let me know that the gentleman her son was apprentice with did work for the young Duchess of Albermarle and two other duchesses, and that he is a very fashionable tailor. His name is Tryder, you know where he lives, not far from Mr Abram. You may if you please inquire of him, but not make wares [?] of him, this time, for he cannot fit me by that measure, so well as Hart’s man can because he hath seen me and hath my measure already. Hart makes my cousin Sherwood’s niece Miss Denton ‘s clothes, as well as anybody, and everybody that sees them commends them, and if he will he may do so by mine. We pay as well as anyone, pray give him a charge to do them well. When I was at Lyndon at the christening, Parson Hull, though he was but in a rotten condition, did vent and talk at a great rate, and bade me send to you to present him again, if he did forget, his old living at Lyndon, and that he might have a clerk, and things handsome in the church, but you must mend their wages[?] he said, fQr none would do it for that. I was sent for home, as soon as the child was christened, to my Lady Mackworth and other company. Your brother told me last Sunday what he said to Miss Fawkener, and that he talked of him and you to her, and a great deal of simple stuff I should not [have] troubled you with this, but that you may know how to carry it to him, if you see him, for I think he is set forward. Robin Closes [Robert Close of Lyndon] was buried yesterday. Nothing more but the presentation of your children’s duty to you by her that is, Dear Heart, thy truly loving wife M Barker
[P.S. along side of page] Pray buy your goddaughter Miss Pen something, a toy or a bauble that is pretty.

(DE 730/1 73)

The reference to Thomas Barker’s conversations with Miss Fawkener, of the influential Uppingham family, suggests a possible suit of marriage, although Wright (1684) gives no record of any marriage taking place and Thomas died in 1680 without issue.

Lady Mary’s urgent concern for suitable mourning clothes for her husband and especially herself was fascinatingly answered by a surviving shopping account. Among Abel’s handwritten papers is a list, with prices, of several dozen items “Bought at London in May [16]70”. Furniture was included, although Lyndon Hall had not been completed at this date. £40 was spent on a bed, including ‘sky colour sarsnet’ for lining the curtains and a bedstead with sackcloth bottom, cords and curtain rods. Among the “turned chairs”, pincushions and powder boxes, sixpence was spent on a “close stool” [enclosed chamber-pot]. “For housekeeping” were listed items of wine and “A box of sweetmeats”. Among the many clothing items purchased were 5 1/2 yards of black Spanish cloth at £1 per yard, crepe for a hatband and “a walking staff’ for Sir Abel, while Lady Mary received 13 1/2 yards of black Farrendine for £5, and Hart was to make her a “cordirobe” with busk [stiffened corset] and low pocket for £1. 5s. Her request for a suit of knots and roll for her hair was met, along with a “lemon colour printed sarsnet Indian gown,” hole suit of plain lawn linen with Holland sleeves”, shoes and two pairs of “sad and white gloves”. The eldest daughter, Mary, received a “cordirobe” made by Hart of “sad colour” striped Tabby [thick taffetta], a sky-coloured Indian gown and a “suit of coloured knots with silver”. The twins, Thomasin and Elizabeth, had “Tiffany linen” suits, sky-coloured knots and two bibles. Thomas, the son and heir, on this occasion received only a hat with its box and a pair of Holland sleeves and cuffs.

Two interesting items are included on this revealing list: a silver bowl and beaker were bought for the Lady Campden and engraved with her arms, while £1 was paid for “Ellis[’s] opinion about executor[?] of Sir G.P. [Geoffrey Palmer]. Even while earnestly meeting his wife and daughters’ demands for fashionable items, Sir Abel Barker, as always, was ready to cultivate and improve his own material interests. However, further details of this and other concerns of Sir Abel’s later life elude us, since the letterbook containing copies of letters sent by Abel Barker since 1642 ends with a note to his brother in 1665, requesting Thomas to pay the rent for lands in Gunthorpe to the infant William Ducie.

On 8th December 1670 Sir Abel Barker of Hambleton, Baronet, drew up his will. His body was to be buried at Hambleton “in decent manner but without any funeral solemnity”. In recompense for her marriage jointure, Mary was to receive various closes and meadows including Wingbridge Close and the adjacent Middle Close in the parish of Lyndon. The English Place Name Survey volume for Rutland identifies both these fields: Wingbridge Close was “in the extreme SW corner of the parish... [where] a small bridge crosses the River Chater into Wing parish”. The widow would receive a share of the jewels, plate and “household stuff’ and a home in Uppingham. Lady Mary Barker would be able to live in style, with her husband’s coach and “two of my best horses”. The heir, Thomas, was to receive ‘my Saddle Mare”, most of the lands and household property. His three half-sisters would each receive fifteen hundred pounds at the age of 21 or on their marriage. Until this time, for their maintenance, £20 a year would be increased to £30 at the age of 16. The “poor of Hambleton” and “poor of Lyndon” would benefit from a bequest of £5 to each. Abel’s brother and executor, Thomas Barker, would inherit lands in Lincolnshire and be granted certain lands in Lyndon for a period of thirty years, after which they would return to his nephew’s inheritance. During the period 1665-75, Sir Abel must have been greatly preoccupied with the planning and building of Lyndon Hall, concerning which only fragmentary accounts survive in the family archives. It appears that his wife continued to be excluded from involvement with the progress of her new home. A letter of June 1672 is more concerned with local gossip and social activities, with the request that: “Mall desires you to buy her a pair of pendants with wires to go over her ears of the newest fashion”. By June of 1673, Sir Abel must have expressed concern about the slow progress in completing his grand new house at Lyndon. In a month of hostile weather, Mary was unable to reassure him. On 22 June she wrote to Sir Abel Barker Baronet at Mrs Donathy’s house over against the sign of the Black Raven in Old Southampton Buildings (Fig. 3):

My Dearest Heart
I was in great perplexity when the carrier came, and had no letter for me. I shall not be well again this day or two. 1 have received your letter from Mr Green‘s house an hour after the carrier boy was come. Truly I am in so great a disorder I can hardly write. I am sorry you cannot come down so soon as you intended. Your building goes not on in the least, for it is the saddest weather that ever was known of man for this time of the year. The carpenters have done what they can do within doors, Mr Sturgess
[John Sturges, well-known architect-surveyor who had connections with Chatsworth House, Belton House and Milton Park (Mayhew, Lyndon, Rutland, RLHRS 1999)] tells me, and all the masons was [were] constrained to go away. Suttons stayed the longest, but John said they did more hurt than good. Here hat/i been such a flood in Tween Brooks as was never seen before. [The location of the aptly named “Tween Books” can be seen on R. Sterndale Bennett’s 1943 survey of Rutland field names, filling a large triangular area between two converging tributaries of the River Gwash.] All your meadows are flotten [flooded] everywhere. I desire to know if Mr Hudson be found, for I am in great want of a gown, and would have those things I sent for all bought, if possible. All your corn is threshed out, and the old all sold. I would know if you will sell any of that. It rises very much, it was seven groats a strike [measure of grain] of [on] Friday. There is a great many people desire to buy, but I tell them I cannot let them have it so without your order. John washed but half his sheep, the rain beat them out. He must wash them again, he saith. The weather is so uncertain he can do nothing [as] to washing your sheep yet. On Thursday last John Bell called at break [of] day for Sam and two or three more, to help him to get out all his cattle to save them from drowning, all the dykes meet. Pray God send you a good journey down, you will find dirt enough. The children present you with their duty by, Dear Heart, thy truly loving wife M Barker.

(DE 730/1)

Two years later, on 2 November 1675, we learn that Mary’s step-son, the young heir Thomas, now aged 18, was assuming greater responsibilities on the estate in his father’s absence, while Mary reported on the various activities of employees:

For Sir Abel Barker, Baronet, at Mr Slaughter‘s, a Stationer over against Sergeant ‘s Inn in Chancery Lane.
My Dearest Heart
John Musson
[Abel Barker’s agent over many years, who owned two houses at Hambleton] hath received your money last Wednesday, and not before. My son did sell ten sheep at 19 shillings a piece to Ned Ward, I have given an account to you. I do not know whether my brother Barker comes to town or not... My daughters present their duty to you and desire you not to forget the muffs and laced hood for them. We are all mighty ill of the cold. I desire a few oranges and lemons, and the children a roll of goocolet [chocolate]. Douke [Richard Douke, whose single hearth at Hambleton was not chargeable in 1665] hat/i been down at [?] and they are all here again now. Chapman [John Chapman, whose single hearth at Hambleton was not chargeable in 1665] hath been at home 2 days and Douke did intend to be away a week at Presons[?] and Mrs Garners to thatch, but the snow[?] hath prevented him and they are all threshing today, which is all at present from her that is Dear Heart thy truly loving wife M Barker

(DE 730/1)

Mary’s final letter in this fascinating collection is dated 25 November 1675 and written to Sir Abel who had presumably stayed throughout the month at the same London address.

My Dearest Heart, I never knew the least word, that my brother Barker intended for London. You may wonder I did not write to you of his coming to town, as you desired in your letters. Truly I was never acquainted with it.
Henry Green hath taken all away as he should. I showed my son your letter of what you desired, and he said he did look to your grounds, and after the shepherds. I shall be glad to see you, and hope when your business is at an end, you will be for the country again. We all are very much troubled with colds, and most people in the town [village], and other towns everywhere.
My cousin Betty Green saith that muffs are a great deal cheaper in Wallbrook, at Farr’s shops, than in the Exchange
[probably the New Exchange in the Strand, with two long double galleries of rich shops, mainly drapers and mercers (Picard, Restoration London, page 138)], which, with the presentation of your children’s duty, is all from her that is, Dear Heart, thy truly loving wife M Barker.

(DE 730 1/76)

No further letters survive to record the family’s move to Lyndon Hall (Fig. 5), which took place around 1677. Perhaps, finally, Mary might have felt confident that they had achieved a desired level of social prominence, so that she and her daughters could move in noble circles fashionably dressed and living in appropriate grandeur. The house was well furnished and protected: in 1677 Sir Abel purchased 24 yards of “printed Kidderminster” for £2, as well as “a suit of 12 locks, 12 staples and 2 master keys” for £3.10s. A small manuscript volume of accounts covering this period shows that Lady Mary received an allowance of £200 per annum for housekeeping, but still spent no more than £50 yearly on clothes for herself and her three daughters. The women’s horizons remained restricted to Rutland, while for Sir Abel and his son a twenty-day trip to London cost £8, covering coach, horses and lodgings.

The completion of Lyndon Hall and his family’s installation in that gem of elegant style marked the summit of Abel Barker’s hard won rise to fortune and social prominence. The county confirmed his leading position with the election of Sir Abel Barker and Philip Sherard as the two Knights of the Shire in 1678. Two newsletters dated 1678-9 giving accounts of events in Parliament (DE 730/1/77, HMC p.398) provide evidence that Sir Abel Barker kept in touch with national affairs even while at home in Rutland.

Sadly, Sir Abel’s enjoyment of his imposing new home and brief role on the national stage was short-lived. He died in 1679, aged 61, leaving Thomas, who remained unmarried, to inherit the baronetcy. Sir Abel Barker’s replacement as MP for that Parliament was Sir Thomas Mackworth (Wright, Additions XVI).

Lady Mary Barker’s three daughters (fig. 6) all married well. Thomasin’s husband, Colonel Parsons, wrote a letter to her family in December 1697 describing the pomp with which she had been buried in St Margaret’s Church, Westminster. Lady Mary disappears from the face of history with Sir Abel Barker’s death. She may have lived on at Lyndon Hall, enjoying the comfort and pleasures which her husband worked so hard to provide, and which on her stepson’s death without issue in 1708 passed to the descendants of Samuel Barker, the cousin from South Luffenham.

A final record of the sum of Sir Abel Barker’s material achievement is provided by the inventory taken on 30 September 1679, shortly after his death, by “Toby Hippisley the elder & Tobias Hippisley the younger Gent.” (DE 730/1, fig. 7). [In 1665 “Mr Tobias Hippesly”, presumably the father, had possessed a substantial house of seyen hearths at Hambleton, second in size only to the Old Hall.] At Lyndon Hall, the inventory lists thirteen separate chambers for family members and their servants, as well as many other rooms including Gallery, Great Parlour, Withdrawing Room, Kitchen, Pastry Scullery, Pantry and Brewhouse. There were plate and jewels worth £120, “Household stuff at Hambleton” worth £23, as well as two coaches, many horses, sheep and other farm animals and crops. Sir Abel was owed £330 in unclaimed debts, giving the total value of his “Goods, chattels and credits” as £3110. It was an impressive record of the rewards of merit, rather than inheritance. From dealing in land and sheep, cultivating those who counted and emulating the Vicar of Bray in those turbulent times, Sir Abel Barker ensured that Lyndon Hall, with its resident families of Barker and Conant, continued to play a significant part in the subsequent history of Rutland.

Acknowledgements I would like to thank Mr Edward Conant of Lyndon Hall for his interest and assistance, and especially for providing copies of the portraits of Sir Abel Barker’s three daughters. The Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland kindly gave permission to reproduce extracts and illustrations from the Barker manuscripts while Tim Clough, Honorary Editor, has been a fount of wisdom and helpful advice.

Burke, J & 113, A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Extinct and Dormant Baronetcies of England (London 1838).
Cox, Bane, Place Names of Rutland (vols. LXVH-LXIX, EPNS 1994).
Cunnington, CW, Cunnington, P and Beard, C, Dictionary of English Costume (London 1960).
Diary of Samuel Pepys (2 vols., Everyman, London 1906). Historical Manuscripts Commission, Appendix to the Fifth Report (London 1876).
Longden, Rev. Henry Isham, Northamptonshire and Rutland Clergy from 1500 (16 vols., 1938-52).
Oxford English Dictionary (2nd edition 1989).
Picard, Liza, Restoration London (London 1997)
The Rutland Hearth Tax 1665 (Rutland Record Society 1991).
Victoria County History Rutland (vol. 111935).
Wright, James, History and Antiquities of the County of Rutland (London 1684, republished 1973).

From the library at Lyndon Hall - an example of Abel Barkers handwriting

Abel Barkers handwriting