Methodist preachers, Huguenots, duels and ………….school clothes?

We often go off to research in archives and libraries and make copious notes but then don’t write them up until quite a while later.

While this can be frustrating (depending on how good your notes were in the first place) it can actually be of benefit to look back at your notes a while later and can often spark off new trains of thought or in this case a blog post.

Joseph Cownley 1723-1792

Joseph Cownley was one of John Wesley’s preachers and my husband’s ancestor.  According to his biography he heard John Wesley speak at Bath and this led to his career as a preacher. As one of the early Methodist preachers he was often in correspondence with both John and Charles Wesley and references to him can be found in their papers and many sources online.

He married a Huguenot heiress, Martha Susanna Massiot, in Dublin in 1755 and they had a number of children.  Although originally an intinerant preacher he suffered from ill health and was more or less permanently based in the Orphan House in Newcastle upon Tyne in later life.  According to his biographer one of his sons, Joseph Massiot Cownley, was apprenticed to a surgeon but then chose a life of adventure and joined the Army as a surgeon’s mate with the 13th Foot.  As newly appointed surgeon to the Queen’s Rangers he fought and was killed in a duel in 1780 just before the regiment were due to sail for America.

Joseph Massiot Cownley

According to the biography, his sisters kept the circumstances of their brother’s death from their father and the story of Joseph Massiot Cownley has rather intrigued me for a number of years now.  I found a Google books mention of him in “A History of Kingswood School by Three Old Boys” and added it to my worklist for the British Library.  The book is actually online but sometimes it is easier to actually consult the original.  In it I found:

Kingswood School near Bristol was founded by John Wesley

"to establish somewhere in England a model educational institution 
"which would not disgrace the apostolic age," 
and to which no religious or right-minded man would fear to send his children."

The fees were £14 per annum but the sons of preachers were admitted free.  Joseph M Cownley the eldest son of Joseph Cownley the preacher was admitted to the school in 1766 at the age of 10, presumably for free.

I have yet to find the original sources on which the book is based but I did find the mentions of Joseph M Cownley fascinating. He is mentioned in relation to school accounts – the bills presumably sent to parents for clothes, pocket money etc and some comments on this are made by the book’s authors.

School clothes c 1760s

Parents will feel a sense of recognition as they read the following list of clothes for a youth aged 8-13 which helpfully has a price tag attached.  (The image here is of a half size suit of clothes and is just to give you an idea of the styles at that time.  It is from the V&A Museum’s collection.)  For those of you who wish to compare the prices with those nowadays there is a website called Measuring Worth which can help you to translate them into today’s money.  One pound (£1) contained 20 shillings (20s) and each shilling contained 12 pennies or pence (12d).  A guinea was 21s or £1 1s 0d.

Miniature Suit of clothes c1765 at the V & A Museum London

Miniature Suit of clothes c1765 at the V & A Museum London

Broad-brimmed hatt (cost 1s 6d to 2s)

Suit of clothes consisting of;
Long-tail coat reaching below the knees made of broadcloth
Vest  (waistcoat)
Pair of knee-breeches fastened around the knee by a riband (cost 6d) in white fustian

Cost of making up the suit of clothes 7s 6d

The materials required for the suit of clothes:
Cloth £1 4s 4d
plus three quarters of a yard of shaloon @ 19d a yard
and 2 yards of fustian 2s 4d
Buttons 2s 6d
Silk etc 3s 9d

Stockings 1s 6d to 2s 4d a pair
Shoes 3s to 4s a pair
Buckles 6d

It seems that Joseph junior had aspirations to dandyism according to the authors although as Beau Nash died in 1761/2 he was hardly a contemporary.

“There were of course stylish boys in the school, followers of their contemporary Beau Nash.  Joseph Cownley surprises us in this respect, for in his account there appears;

“To a New Wig 6s
To a pair of gloves 10d
To making his great coat into a strait one and trimmings 3s 6d”

Obviously he is a little older at this stage as I do not think a 10 year old boy would have worn a wig!

But in the accounts for his early years in the school probably for around 1766-7

“under the name of the aforesaid Joseph Cownley there appear the following items:
“To pocket–money for a year and a Hatt and a Bottle for his head 3s 3d
To ye Doctor for Sore Head 10s 6d
To Doctor’s Bill for Sore Breast 16s 6d”

So it looks as if he had been fighting although I have no idea what a Bottle for his head refers to, maybe medicine?

The mentions of him in the book are fairly sparse and now I need to look for the source of their information if it still exists somewhere to see if I can find out more. Just a few details in a book of accounts can give us an image of a person. The medicines and doctor’s bills seem to indicate a fairly fiery disposition which could tie in with the fatal duel.  A picture of a young man rejecting his father’s life of piety emerges just from a few bare facts. The authors attribute the entries to his being a favourite of the doctor but my interpretation is a little different in the light of what happened later.  Which of us is correct?

Oh to be able to travel back in time and meet this young man – who died so young but may have lived life to the full nevertheless! Perhaps the family’s notoriously short temper originates in this line?

Jacqui Kirk