The following account of the Gittins family of Myddle was taken from a book titled “An English Rural Community, Myddle, under the Tutors and Stewarts, by Davd G. Hey, Leicester University Press, 1974
Myddle, Shropshire, England
The village of Myddle is a small village in Shropshire, England, about 10 miles north of Shrewsbury, the county town of Shropshire. Myddle lies in the parish of Myddle with Broughton-le-Strange. The 2001 census recorded a population of 1,142 in the village.
In the early years Myddle village contained two large farms (the Castle and Eagle), while on the outskirts of the township there was the smaller farm of the Hollins. In the village there was also the parsonage and two freehold tenements (belonging to the Gittins family and the Lloyds), and six tenements and two half-tenements that were rented from the lord.
The Gittinses had come from a tanning business in Shrewsbury sometime between 1524 and 1528. Richard Gittins I had been a wealthy tanner in Shrewsbury. He had bought a freehold tenement in Newton from the ancient owners, the Banasters of Hadnall, and a half tenement from them in Myddle, known as the house at the higher well. These he let to tenants. Then, he himself came to live as tenant of Eagle Farm and of eight acres of the newly enclosed Myddlewood. This must have happened by 1528 because he was among the jurors of the manor court in that year. He was also recorded in 1537, but his widow was occupying the property in 1538. She was succeeded by her son and grandson, who were both called Richard.
Some families, such as the Gittins chose the same Christian name for the eldest son over several generations. It was also common for a child to be given the same name as a dead elder brother or sister, but it was not fashionable before the eighteenth century to give children more than one Christian name.
Richard III had been made a freeman of the Mercers’ Company in 1565, but he settled at Eagle Farm upon his father’s death. He was also one of the five Newton farmers who rented the Brown Heath at Harmer; he renewed the lease of Eagle Farm for three lives, and “builded the house anew and bought the Tymber at a woode sale in Myddlewood”.
The two younger sons of Richard III made their living in Shrewsbury, Ralph as a High Schoolmaster, and William as a tanner. This connection with the trade and the aspirations to learning remained strong with the family. There also appears to have been another son called Morgan, and a daughter named Anne who married a Shrewsbury Mercer. William in fact seems to have ended his days as the gentleman tenant of Castle Farm (he died 1644), but it was the senior branch of the family, represented in the person of Richard IV, that was generally in residence in the village.
It was this “mild, peaceable, [and] charitable” Richard who married Alice Morgan and inherited Castle Farm, and who later added to his freehold estate by purchasing lands in Houlston.
Mr. Morgan ap Probart, as the Welch name suggests had originated from Wales just across the border from Myddle, likely as a young man. He owned Castle Farm. He had no children to carry on his name so he adopted a young kinswoman named Alice and brought her up as his own. When she was of age she had a large farm (Castle) as her marriage portion and she would have been considered a most desirable match. The man she choose – or was chosen for her – was Richard Gittins IV, the heir of a family that had risen by trade and which had acquired the highly sought status of gentry as freeholders and tenants of the lord’s second largest farm (Eagle Farm) in Myddle. The marriage was to mark the height of the fortunes of the Gittins family.
It is worthwhile at this point – the highest rise of the Gittinses – to consider just how much land they were farming in the early years of the seventeenth century. This included 36 acres in the Bilmarsh Houlston area, and 325 acres of Castle farm in Myddle itself. The fields stretch east of the village street and south from the castle and can be readily matched with the 318 1/2 acres of Castle Farm. So, upon the death of his father, Richard Gittins V had something like 625 acres upon secure lease at a low rent, with common rights of pasture and another eight acres in myddlewood, with more freehold property in Myddle , Newton and Houlston, rented out to sub-tenants, and a lease of part of the moss land called Brown Heath. The extent of his financial interests in Shrewbury is unknown, but it is hard to imagine that he did not have a finger in that pie as well. Here was obviously one of the richest men, if not the richest in Myddle.
Richard Gittins IV died in the very last days of 1624, ” soe willing to forgive injuryes that he passed by many without seeming to take notice of them”. Unfortunately, there were men in Myddle less scrupulous than he , ready to take advantage of his mild manner. A long note by the steward of the manor tells all about the trouble he had over Eagle Farm. Shortly after rebuilding his house and moving to Castle Farm he let Eagle Farm to Thomas Jux, who was descended from the Juxes of Newton and born in a cottage at the side of Houlston Lane. This Thomas and his Welch wife, Lowre, took the tenement at £6 a year rack-rent and kept it as an inn. But Jux, possibly overburdened with his nine children, could not make ends meet and soon ran up a debt of £28 to Gittins. Having made a bill of sale to Gittins of all his estate, Jux was given two years’ grace, whereupon he “falsly sels his title to Robert Moore combininge together to defraud Gittins and puts Moore in the possession”. This Roger Moore was the brother of the rector and farmer of the tithes, and was living in the Parsonage House at the time. His holy surroundings do not seem to have done much for him, for as the steward goes on to say that, “Gittins heareing that Jux was gone away by Moore’s procurement, sends two servants no body being in the house to keepe the possession. Juxe and Moore violently brake a wall with force and drew out and hurt Gittins’ servants, and forceably kept possession untill the next session wheare they weare both Indicted and convicted by a jury and writ of restitution was graunted in court that the possession should be redelivered to Gittins”. At this point, 1624, Gittins died, leaving his widow, Alice and his son Richard V, now 22 years old. to carry on the battle. His younger son, Daniel, had been apprenticed to a Shrewsbury draper in 1621 and had gone to be a merchant tailor in London, and his daughter Mary, was soon to marry a Shropshire gentleman. Their only other child had died when she was five months old.
This fifth Richard lived to be 61 and “Was of good account in his time but hee was too sociable and kinde hearted: and by strikeing hands in suretyship, hee much dampnifyed himselfe and his family. Hee did not at all derogate from the charitable, meeke and comendable moralls of his father”. He was soon to run into trouble in order to hang on to Eagle Farm. Moore took the case further in the courts, indeed as far as Chancery, but finally Gittins recovered possession, costs and damages.
It could not therefore, have been this case that hit the family pockets. The steward obviously thought highly of him, asking the lord to confirm his possession, and saying that Gittins was “willing to give his lordship such fine and rent as his honnor shall think convenient…[and] hath payd all dutys to Church, king and lord and very many lewnes [i.e. church rates] towards the building of a Steeple on Myddle Church…and have repayred the house and buildings at their great cost and charges:.
Yet Gittins was soon to lose the Eagle Farm. There is only Gough’s ststement about his standing risky sureties to give any hint as to what must have happened. In 1634, widow Alice Gittins was paying her usual £6 6s. 8d rent for Castle Farm. She also paid 14s. 0d. for Eagle Farm, with 8s. 0d. for 16 acres of woodland, 4d. for a house that Richard Clarke, the labourer, lived in on Harmer Hill, 3s. 0d. chief rent for the house at the higher well in Myddle 11s. 6d. chief rent for some freehold land in Houlston and a further 9s. 4d. rent for just over 18 acres of moorland in Houlston. By 1650, Richard Gittins V was retaining his freehold, but had relinquished all the rest except Castle Farm. Trouble seems to have been brewing in 1638, the year after the steward had spoken up for the family, for when the attempt was made to increase the entry fines, “Alice Gittins for the Egle and Child was told that her former undervaluation and offer were so much to the dislike that your honor purposed to take it into your lordship’s hands at Our Lady day next, and she had warning to leave it at the tyme, yet i heare shee hath sowed parte of the ground with oates:. Underneath was the ominous note, “Robt. More desireth to take the same at the yerely rent of £15”. Moore had failed to win possession forcibly or through the courts, but now he was to enter unmolested as the Gittins family could not afford the new terms.
At Castle Farm, Richard Gittins V had married Margery, the daughter of Francis Peplow, a wealthy farmer just across the parish boundary in Fenemere. She bore him six boys and two girls before his death in 1663. The eldest was Richard VI, “a good country-scoller, [who] had a strong almost miraculouse memory. Hee was a very religiouse person butt he was too talkative”. A bachelor, he died suddenly, in 1677, after a meeting of the Grand Jury for the county, and his brother, Daniel, succeeded him at Castle Farm. He too was a bachelor and he died less than four months after his brother. The property passed to the third son, Thomas, the Vicar of Loppington, but as he lived in his own parish, the youngest son William, came to be the gentleman tenant of Castle Farm. Between the births of Thomas and William there had also been twins, but Ralph had died and Nathaniel was provided for as Vicar of Ellesmere. Of the daughters, Elizabeth died young, and Mary “was a person of a comely countenance but somewhat crooked of Boddy. She was a modest and religiouse woman and died unmarryed”.
The son of Thomas Gittins, the vicar, was also called Thomas, and after his marriage he lived at the family freehold tenement, the house at the higher well. He does not seem to have been as placid as some of his ancestors, for the Acta books of the Bishop’s Visitation Courts record a charge against him in 1699 of fighting Mr. John Reynolds in Myddle churchyard. His defence was “that he being run into his belly with a sword by the said John Reynolds” he thought that he had a just cause for fighting. At Castle Farm, William had taken as wife a daughter of a neighbouring farmer. He died at the age of 72 in 1715, with his wife and four of his nine children dying before him. But there were two strong branches of the Gittins family ready to continue farming the family lands in the eighteenth century. Those wealthy Shrewsbury tanners had made a sound investment when they choose to put their money down on land in Myddle.
Source: A book titled “An English Rural Community, Myddle, under the Tutors and Stewarts, by Davd G. Hey, Leicester University Press, 1974