The Friends of St. Peter's Berkhamsted

Friends of St Peter's, Great Berkhamsted

Anne Hewson [nee Sherwin] (1777 – 1853)

Grave Number 169

Anne (nee Sherwin) married Thomas Ansaldo Hewson, a recently qualified surgeon, in 1823. She was nine years his senior – Thomas having been born on Christmas Day, 1786. Under their marriage settlement, Anne had the power to dispose of £37,900, a very substantial sum in those days. Thomas had clearly been strategic in marrying Anne, as the agreement confirmed that the expenses of their ‘establishment’ should be paid out of her property, 6 Woburn Place, whilst he would provide for the charges of horses and carriages.

What comes as a surprise is that in 1845, Thomas, a seemingly respectable London surgeon, was acquitted at the Central Criminal Court of ‘conspiring to procure an order for the confinement of a person of sound mind in a Lunatic Asylum.’  The report does not state who that person was. However, it is surely no coincidence that from exactly that date until his death, Thomas received the whole income of Anne’s property, and ‘continued the Woburn Place establishment. ‘

Thomas died on the 6th January 1851 aged 65, and is buried at All Souls, Kensal Green.  His will, from December 1846, did ‘give the use of his furniture, plate, linen, jewels and household effects, including the jewels and effects which belonged to his wife before her marriage and which he has assumed by marital right, unto his wife for her life, and such wines and liquors as she might require.’ At the same time, he made generous donations of £500-£1,000 to nine London Hospitals and to the Society for the Relief of the Widows and Orphans of Medical Men.

Within a month of his death, an Inquisition was held at which Anne was formally declared to be of ‘unsound mind’ and backdating her lunacy to 3rd April 1845 – the year her husband had been acquitted. Her wealth at that time amounted to an income from freehold and leasehold property of £4,000 a year, besides the initial sum which had grown to £42,000, and was clearly being wrangled over by two camps.

Two nephews were at the centre of the tussle. One ‘had a large family and was a lay preacher –  a missionary – recently gone out to India with a salary of £180 per year.’  The other nephew was William Parkins, who had grown up in Berkhamsted. It was clear which she favoured. Regarding the missionary nephew – ‘there was no evidence of any disposition on the part of the aunt to be generous towards her nephew, nor did it appear that she had ever made him an object of care and consideration.’  In contrast , she had placed William ‘at school, and had subsequently paid his apprenticeship fee and discharged the costs of his maintenance, and had intimated to him her intention to advance him in life; it was also shown that before her lunacy, Mrs Hewson had promised to let him have £500 to start in business on his own account, upon the faith of which he quitted a situation he held in a wholesale house, and before the lunacy she partly performed this promise by a gift of £50, and after the lunacy Mr Hewson gave Mr Parkins a check for £250, which was paid by the bankers out of the money to the account of Mrs Hewson’s money.’

So, by the time of the census on 30th March 1851 William Parkins, then aged 37 and described as a stationer, had moved into 6 Woburn Place with his wife and son, clearly to look after his widowed Aunt, who in the census is described as a Lunatic. The scale of her assets had probably kept her from an asylum.

By April that year he was clearly able to inject money into his thriving business, selling off the whole of the Fancy Stock at their Warehouse, 25 Oxford Street (opposite Soho-square) ‘previous to extensive alterations and improvements’.

Anne, was still residing at Woburn Place when she died just one year later, on the 18th July 1852, aged 75.  William died in 1872. The Bookseller in November that year lamented that ‘a good man has passed away from amongst us … Mr WILLIAM PARKINS, the late head of the firm of Parkins and Gotto, in Oxford Street. Born at Great Berkhamstead, Herts, he was a man singularly active and energetic. Commencing some thirty years ago in Hanway Street, then Hanway Yard, he speedily established a considerable business by the introduction of the five-quire packets of paper (now so popular), the cheap manufacture of envelopes and the embossing of the same with initials, a branch of the trade then quite in its infancy. He soon removed to Oxford Street… and there, in conjunction with Mr. Gotto, entered upon a system of advertising which produced most satisfactory results, the business now being one of the largest in London. Before his death he amply provided for all related to him, and most generously remembered many who had no claims on him whatever. His loss will be most deeply felt, his unostentatious goodness making his memory blessed amidst those who knew him’.

One manifestation of this ‘unostentatious goodness’ was the very fine tomb for/to Anne Hewson in Rectory Lane Cemetery that he paid for, which bears the inscription: ‘This monument was erected by William Parkins (of this town) in memory of his aunt.’

Anne Hewson’s tomb

William was buried at Kensal Green, so why did he particularly choose this Berkhamsted Cemetery for his aunt’s memorial?  Very close to her monument is another elegant Classical memorial to John and Mary Parkins. (190) These were William’s parents. John Parkins was the first Sexton appointed to look after Rectory Lane Cemetery, so William was both celebrating his roots but also the fact that without his Aunt, he would probably have remained in the town.  Towards the end of Anne’s life, ‘it was the wish of the lady, that she should be taken into the country during the summer months.’. It seems likely that William would have been taking her out to Berkhamsted, where his family still resided. William’s father died two years after Anne, and his daughter, Eliza Jane, later Quincey Lane is also buried in the Cemetery.

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