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Historical biographies

Charlotte Tuffnell, Miller of Chesham, Bucks 1796-1879 Part:1

(Credit: Jennie Butler, volunteer for the Mills Archive)

As civil registration didn’t come in until 1837, the records for Charlotte’s early life are very limited. Records show that she was born 16 June 1796 in Chesham and christened the following year on 10 July in Chesham Bois to parents James and Elizabeth Tuffnell. She had at least one older sibling – Elizabeth. Her father was the miller at Lord’s Mill on the River Chess from at least 1783 so she grew up surrounded by the hustle and bustle of a working corn mill, an industry she never left. Although only 11 miles long, the river Chess rises near Chesham and flows south towards Rickmansworth and supported several mills with four dating back to Domesday. Lord’s Mill in Waterside, a hamlet within the Chesham parish, was one of them. Thomas Baskerville who travelled the home counties describing the topography and settlements visited the area in 1671 and noted that 'Here also runs a nimble stream with mills on it to grind meal for London, and in a room over the market house people are much employed to hoult, cleanse, or sort the flour from the bran.' This conjures up a picture of a well established profitable trade in a productive hinterland providing local employment with business further afield.

At age 18 Charlotte married John Fox by licence on 31 May 1814 in Buckinghamshire; the exact church or chapel is unknown. There were several reasons for getting married by licence rather than having banns read over a period of three weeks. It could mean that a couple wanted to get married more quickly or without other people knowing; that the bride was pregnant or a recent widow; that one of them was not being very truthful about their age or that they wished to marry away from their home parish. John and Charlotte went on to have at least 11 daughters however, Elizabeth was the firstborn on 21 Nov 1812 when Charlotte was 16. Her name is recorded as Elizabeth Tuffnell Fox. Charlotte obviously wanted to retain a link to her family by keeping her maiden name. Ann followed on 14 Dec 1813. Already having these two daughters may explain why the marriage was by licence. Nine more daughters followed - Jane b. 15 Mar 1815; Mary b. 28 Mar 1817; Kezia b. 28 Dec 1818; Charlotte Tuffnell b. 18 Nov 1820; Martha b. 18 Dec 1823; Maria b. 2 June 1826; Caroline b. 1828; Rebecca b. 1830 and Sarah Rebecca b. 17 June 1833. If Charlotte was christened and married in a church, the family were definitely dissenters by 1821 as six children were all registered as Baptists at the Old Meeting House, Chesham Bois on the same day. The younger daughters were all subsequently registered there.

Charlotte’s husband is listed in Pigot’s Trade Directory of 1830 as ‘Miller, Fox John, Water side’; Lord’s was the only mill in Waterside so it can be assumed that that is where he and Charlotte lived. Maybe her future husband was an employee of her father; they took on the business after his death. John appears again in the electoral registers of 1831 and 1832 but died in 1835 leaving Charlotte aged 39 with her 11 daughters, nine of them under the age of 21, the youngest just two years old.

John left a detailed will which he wrote on 28 February 1835 appointing John Pope the younger, farmer at White End, Chesham and George Rose, ironmonger as trustees and executors, but as an afterthought on 6 August 1835 he added Charlotte as an executrix. Did she insist in having some involvement in the estate, was there a dispute? It was very common for a man to leave property to his eldest son, even if he was in his minority, having his mother as a trustee, but only having daughters John devised that everything should be held by Pope and Rose. They were to ensure that Charlotte had the use and enjoyment of the remainder of the term of the lease on the property with all the household goods and implements, furniture and linen on condition that she remained a widow. She was to maintain and educate all the children up to their respective ages of 21. The will was proved 2 June 1836 in London. As he died just less than a year before probate was granted he may well have been ill and wanted to put his affairs in order to give his wife a secure future. The will gives the impression that he was an educated well to do man as he signed all five pages (rather than making his mark) and his witnesses were solicitors in Chesham rather than neighbours or friends. He mentioned a debt owed to the solicitors. Unfortunately he omitted the name of the mill, but pinpointed it as being in Waterside which must refer to Lord’s. They were tenants of John Iggulden Esq. an absentee landlord living in Bloomsbury, Middx. The description of the property in the will was a house, mill, farm and garden ground. He also had a piece of ground planted with osiers on Back Moor in Chesham Bois.

Tracing Charlotte through censuses, electoral registers and trade directories she appears to have moved several times. In 1837 she was still a tenant of Iggulden however, by the 1841 census she had moved to Cannon Mill (alias Canon or Middle Mill) with seven of her children. Cannon was another corn mill situated downstream from Lord’s. By 1847 there were three flour mills and one silk mill surviving in the Chesham/Chesham Bois/Waterside area when Charlotte described herself as a flour miller but again did not give the name of the mill. A Robert Ball was at Cannon Mill suggesting that perhaps she had moved on again.


Charlotte Tuffnell, Miller of Chesham, Bucks 1796-1879 Part:1

Lord’s Mill 1906 or earlier (Source: Mills Archive Trust WPAC-WAT-00586).

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