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Hayward's House – A Neglected Celebrity

This article on what is now 16 High Street was written by Norman Hidden.

An early twentieth century Quit Rent list (c.1920) describes a house on the west side of Hungerford High Street as "formerly Jones', afterwards Rev. John Charles Townsend". This information correlates with early 19th century Quit Rent Rolls: in 1836 John Charles Townsend; in 1832 Rev. Richard Townsend, late Jones. In 1818 and 1805 there was some confusion with the forenames Thomas and Richard, both being entered and then one or the other being deleted. In the corresponding rolls for 1795 the entry reads Richard Townsend, late Jones. In 1774 the quit rent is listed as due from George Jones; and in 1753 from Mrs. Bridget Simkins. In all these rolls the quit rent for this house was a rather unusual 6d, an important identifying feature.

How the property passed into the hands of the Townsend family may be illustrated by reference to a series of wills. George Jones, a Newbury attorney, (PCC, probate Jan 1787) left the property (with others in Hungerford, including the Angel Inn) to be administered by Richard Townsend, his partner and the husband of George Jones' niece Ann. George Jones had acquired the property in 1772 as the chief legatee of Rev. Thomas Davies of Hungerford. Davies was a widower, formerly the husband of Eleanor nee Simkins who died in 1771.

Eleanor was the daughter of Bridget and James Simkins. In her PCC will (probate Jan. 1771) she leaves to her husband Thomas Davies "all manors, messuages, lands possessed of or in Hungerford or elsewhere". Thomas Davies did not live long to enjoy his wife's bequest. In his own will (PCC, probate Feb. 1772) he left £100 to the poor of Hungerford and all his manors etc. to "my esteemed friend George Jones of Newbury, Attorney at Law."

Bridget Simkins, the mother of Eleanor and the widow of James Simkins, died in 1770. She must have been a very old lady then, her husband James (born 1685) having pre-deceased her in 1740. James's father was Jeffery Simkins, a local attorney who for many years had been Steward of the town and manor of Hungerford, until his death in 1719. In Jeffery's will (PCC, probate 1736) he stated that James would be entitled as his son and heir to his mansion house, that is, the freehold house in which Jeffery was then dwelling. That the property remained with James's heir is indicated by the annual Hocktide Court lists of free-suitors, which included "the heirs of James Simkins" from 1740 up to and including 1770.

Although Jeffery Simkins' will was dated 1719, the year in which his burial is recorded at the parish church, it may have led to some dispute or uncertainty, for probate was not given until 1736. The appointed executor William Cheyney (he who is remembered for the brutal circumstance a few years later of having been battered to death, together with his wife, by an unknown assailant) renounced the executorship, and the executor ultimately named was Thomas Mundy, who had married James Simkins' sister, Penelope, and was therefore the son-in-law of Jeffery Simkins.

The 1753 Quit Rent roll records Mrs. Bridget Simkins as paying quit rent on two houses on the west side of the High Street, one occupied by herself, the other described as "late Cook's" [Cook alias Garmy]. In some cases where a group of properties are held by a single individual the question naturally arises of how to identify any one particular house among them. Fortunately, when Mr. George Jones in 1781 insured his newly acquired properties (Sun Life vol. 293) the insurance agent listed them as follows: "one house and offices adjoining in the tenure of Mr. Hayward " insured for the sum of £300; "one house and offices adjoining near the aforesaid, in the tenure of Mr. Wheeler" £100; "the Angel alehouse, near, in the tenure of Henry Clements, brick and timber and tiled" £100; "one house near , late in the tenure of Joseph Allen, now empty" £80. All houses are said to be brick and tiled, except the Angel which contained some timber in its construction.

From this account it will be seen that the house in the tenure of Mr. Hayward is valued at more than the total value of the three other Hungerford properties; obviously a house of some local consequence, not unbefitting a Steward of the manor such as Jeffery Simkins or an attorney such as Mr. Hayward. That this house is the one previously described as the dwelling of Mrs. Bridget Simkins would seem to be clear. If we consult the record of the Hungerford Court Leet for 1760, the name Thomas Hayward appears (Berkshire R.O. H/M2) as a 'resiant' i.e. resident, as distinguished from a free-suitor. The property therefore is in his 'tenure' but not owned by him. The position of Hayward's name on the 1777 and 1778 Commoners' Lists is additional evidence that the site he was leasing was a house 4 sites downhill from what was then known as Church Lane, the present day Church Street, and which later acquired the street number 16. In 1781 his name was again included in the draft Commoners' List, but deleted following his death in that year.

Thomas Hayward was a man not merely of local or regional fame, but one of national distinction. As an editor his anthology of British poetry in 3 volumes, entitled "The British Muse," received the highest praise from the most eminent literary men of his and succeeding generations. His life and achievements are recorded in the Dictionary of National Biography. There are errors of fact and many omissions in the biography; many of these errors or omissions have been corrected in articles by Norman Hidden. Houses in other towns have been awarded blue plaques commemorative of men of less distinction. It is to be hoped that the site of Hayward's dwelling place will in due course receive similar recognition.

"In a house on this site lived Thomas Hayward, Editor of The British Muse during the years 1760-1781"

Hayward had been invited by the Court of Chancery to act as Receiver of an estate in a dispute (1752-1757) which involved some members of Bridget Simkin's family. This connection may have led to his acquiring the lease of the house. As Receiver, Hayward would be responsible for the management of the Simkins estate, a function with which local attorneys were familiar. Since the Quit Rent Roll of 1753 shows only two properties in the name of Bridget Simkins, what has happened to the others (e.g. The Angel and the vacated house of Joseph Allen)? Hayward probably acted also as manager of the estate of William Cheyney (see DCW will of Thomas Hayward).

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- 16 High Street