SPURRELL & COPEMAN families
The Spurrell Family of Bessingham and their links to the Copemans
Robert Copeman’s youngest daughter, Sarah Frances, was married on 11 May 1848 to Daniel Spurrell of Bessingham, a small village about 5 miles north of Itteringham. Since the early 1500s Daniel’s family had been associated with Bessingham and neighbouring Thurgarton (where different generations of Copemans had also lived from time to time). The marriage took place in Brighton and was conducted by Daniel’s cousin (my great-great-grandfather), Rev. Frederick Spurrell, who later held the small Essex parish of Faulkbourne for 45 years.
This article is a short history of the family that Sarah Frances Copeman became part of for 55 years of her life, and a look at her descendants and the fate of that particular branch of the family.
The Spurrells, a long-lived race
Daniel’s obituary in the Eastern Daily Press 23 April 1906 says that he “came of a long-lived race”. In both senses of the phrase, this is right. Not only was he a few months short of his 90th birthday when he died, but the Spurrells had farmed land in Thurgarton and Bessingham since Tudor times, when a William Spurrell was mentioned on the Subsidy Roll of 1506.
By the early 1800s, two distinct branches of the family had developed in Norfolk. In Daniel’s father’s generation there were four sons. William inherited Thurgarton and lived at Thurgarton House (sometimes referred to as Thurgarton Hall or Thurgarton Old Hall). John had Bessingham and built a new manor house for himself there in the early 1800s. The other two sons, James and Charles (my great-great-great-grandfather), went to London to make their fortunes in the Southwark brewing trade.
John had married his cousin Elizabeth Joy in 1814 and died on 4 June 1837 leaving two sons (Flaxman and Daniel) and two daughters (Elizabeth and Frances). Despite being the elder of the two sons, Flaxman did not inherit Bessingham but an estate at Sidestrand which had been passed down through his grandmothers. His grandmothers were both daughters of James Flaxman of Roughton. After a number of years spent in London, Flaxman moved to Belvedere in Kent where he worked as a doctor.
Thus the Bessingham branch continued with John’s second son Daniel. Daniel was only 20 at the time of his father’s death, and he oversaw the running of the estate for nearly 70 years thereafter. On the 1901 census he describes himself as a “Retired Agriculturalist”, implying that he may have been interested in improving farming methods. His heirs, however, by all accounts, were not enthusiastic about modernisation, which partly explains the fate of Bessingham Manor House, as we shall see later.
How Daniel and Sarah possibly met
A letter dated 18 December 1840 from Daniel to his brother Flaxman mentions that he had been to call on Mrs. Copeman, who sends her regards. Who was this Mrs. Copeman?
Sarah’s eldest brother, Edward James Copeman, had married Mary Joy in 1833. Used correctly, the title “Mrs.” refers to the wife of the eldest son, if his mother has died. Edward and Sarah’s mother, Blanche Lee Copeman (née Case) had died in January 1840, so Daniel, if following the correct usage of the time, would have been referring to Edward’s wife Mary.
But what was Mary Joy’s relation to Daniel? As mentioned earlier, Daniel’s mother was Elizabeth Joy. Daniel’s father John, in his will dated 1831, bequeathed money to his sisters-in-law Mary and Sarah Joy – although this was later revoked by a codicil. This Mary Joy could well be the same person who married Edward James Copeman two years later.
If this assumption is correct, Daniel and Sarah may well have met at some point in the 1830s or 40s during a family get-together. On the other hand, given that Itteringham and Bessingham are very close, the two families may have met by another means.
Daniel and Sarah’s children
Within ten years of their marriage, Daniel and Sarah had produced seven children – two boys and five girls. Despite the fact that five of the children went on to marry, only two provided grandchildren for Daniel and Sarah.
Emily Fanny Spurrell (1849-1905): On 30 April 1879 Emily was the first of Daniel’s children to marry, becoming the second wife of Rev. William Woodward Mills, who was Rector of nearby Aylmerton with Runton from 1872 to 1915. The service took place at Bessingham and was performed by a Norwich rector, assisted by Daniel’s cousin Rev. Frederick Spurrell. Emily and William had three children:
1. Dorothy Sarah Spurrell Mills (1880-1964), who died unmarried.
2. Ursula Blanche Mills (1882-1949), who also died unmarried.
3. Geoffrey Daniel Spurrell Mills (1886-1904), who was killed in an accident at Sheba Mine, South Africa and is buried there.
Emily’s obituary in the Eastern Daily Press mentions that the carriages were supplied by Mr. J. H. Copeman of Cromer.
Blanche Elizabeth Spurrell (1850-1931): Blanche also died unmarried and probably lived all her life at
Bessingham Manor House. She is buried in the churchyard at Bessingham.
Katherine Anne Spurrell (1852-1919): From the Royal Horticultural Society Website it appears that a daffodil was named after Katherine. Having lived all her life at Bessingham she married in 1912 her cousin Flaxman Charles John Spurrell, eldest son of her uncle Flaxman. Flaxman junior was a geologist and archaeologist, and had worked with the famous egyptologist Petrie in Egypt. He retired to Bessingham, largely withdrawing himself from the world and died in 1915 aged 72. He published a large number of articles in various archaeological journals, and many of the artefacts he discovered or worked on, including some from North Norfolk, can now be seen in the Natural History Museum in London and the Norwich Castle Museum.
Sarah Maria Spurrell (1854-1855): Died before her first birthday and is buried in her own grave at Bessingham.
Robert John Spurrell (1855-1929): Educated at Ipswich and Trinity Hall, Cambridge (where he rowed in the 1878 Boat Race), Robert joined the army and rose to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. He served in Afghanistan, India and South Africa and during the First World War commanded the 13th Royal Sussex Regiment. He was invalided out of active service in 1917 and lived his remaining years at Glandyfi Castle, Wales. In 1893 he married Mary Maude, daughter of Major-General James Lawtic Fagan, but they had no children. Robert is buried at Bessingham, where his wife erected a memorial to him and put in the east window.
Mary Isabel Spurrell (1857-1948): On 13 April 1882 Mary married Frank George Armstrong Hitchcock (1858-1930), a solicitor, with whom she had six children. Details of Mary’s descendants are quite sketchy, but I am providing a brief outline here in the hope that some readers may be able to fill in the gaps.
1. Frank Norman Spurrell Hitchcock (1883-1916), an army doctor who emigrated to New Zealand after marrying Gertrude Fitzhenry in 1909. He was killed in the First World War and had two children: Robert Fitzhenry Hitchcock (b+d 1910) and Mary Margaret Joan Hitchcock (b 1915).
2. Ronald Victor Hitchcock (1884-1970), who inherited Bessingham from his uncle Denham (see below). He apparently had one daughter, Margaret Mary Hitchcock (b 1924).
3. Sybil Mary Hitchcock (b 1886) married in 1933 farmer Francis Gordon Haward (b 1869) and had no children.
4. Gladys Violet Hitchcock (1888-1928) married David Charles Cotton in Scotland in 1928 and had one daughter, Margaret Ann Cotton (b 1928).
5. Sylvia Daisy Hitchcock (b 1889) was married in 1917 to John James Cadour Hudson, by whom she had a daughter called Sybil Ruth Hudson (b 1920).
6. Audrey Myrtle Hitchcock (b 1892) married Montague Bagshaw Harrison in 1919 and had one son, Richard Montague Harrison (b 1926).
Mary Hitchcock is buried in Bessingham churchyard next to her husband.
Edmund Denham Spurrell (1858-1952): The youngest of Daniel and Sarah’s children, Denham inherited not only the estate but his parents’ longevity. He died in 1952 aged 93 having run the estate for almost half a century; he was also a magistrate, local councilor, member of the Norfolk Yeomanry and Master of the North Norfolk Harriers. Several stories exist about Denham’s eccentricities. On his father’s death in 1906, he returned to Bessingham from India with a bear in tow. This bear one day escaped and injured a housemaid and several other people. A photo of Denham with the bear apparently still exists. Denham’s horse is buried in the grounds of Bessingham Manor House – standing upright. He obviously had more respect for traditional forms of transport like horses than for rules concerning the new motor cars. Having caused an accident by driving straight across a crossroads where he should have given way, his defence before the magistrates was that he thought the other cars would have stopped for him. However, a mistrust of modernity did not stop him learning to pilot a plane at the age of 91 so that he could fly to a friend’s house in Bournemouth! His return landing on a field near his Bessingham house was apparently met with cheers by the villagers. In 1906 Denham married Emily Marten (née Finch) but the marriage was childless.
As we have seen, Daniel and Sarah’s heir to the Bessingham estate was their youngest child Denham. After his death it went to Ronald Hitchcock, the son of his sister Mary. Both of the last two owners were “actively opposed to modernisation” and did not allow electricity cables to be laid across their grounds to heat up the church.
Ronald Hitchcock died in 1970 and Bessingham Manor House passed out of the family, ending several generations of the estate being inextricably linked to the Spurrell family. The house is still standing but in a poor state, and according to rumours there is a tree growing through the middle of it.
Daniel and Sarah’s funeral
After 55 years spent together as husband and wife, it seems only right that Daniel and Sarah died within three days of each other. Daniel’s death came after a short period of illness. “Feeling better, [he] announced the intention of getting up. This, however, he never did, for in less than an hour he passed peacefully away.” Sarah died four hours before Daniel’s funeral and was buried alongside him. This poignant moment – the end of an era – was expressed as follows in the Eastern Daily Press:
“None who viewed the two coffins side by side, the one placed there on Saturday and the other just then lowered, and reflected how after long honoured years, even in ‘death were not divided,’ the aged and worthy couple who began life in the selfsame year, could think other than that they were indeed happy in the manner of their passing hence after a union of five and fifty years.”
Copyright © Jonathan C. Spurrell 2007