When William Shakespeare died on 23rd April 1616, he owned the second largest house in Stratford upon Avon, described in his Will as “All that capital messuage or tenement with the appurtenances called the New Place where I now dwell”. Memorably, his sole bequest to his wife was “my second best best bed”.
About the same date in Market Deeping, widow Agnes Johnson died. Her home was a single storey cottage with three rooms. There was a Hall where she lived and cooked, a Parlour where she slept and a Buttery for storing household utensils. Soon after her death, on 25th April 1616 four local men named William Buddle, Richard More, Thomas Oldgate and Thomas Storey visited the house to list and value her possessions.
IN THE HALL she had a simple wooden table, with a bench to sit on, and one chair. There were six pieces of pewter and three of brass – one, no doubt, being a candlestick. She also had a frying pan with “other implements” which would have included fire irons to support her cooking pots. The total value was 16 shillings.
IN THE PARLOUR there was one bedstead with three sheets, two pillowcases and two tablecloths “and other small linen”. She also had three coffers (chests for storing clothes etc) and two spinning wheels – one for flax and one for wool. There were also valued at 16 shillings.
IN THE BUTTERY was a wooden tub, a strike (vessel for measuring grain) and a leaven tub where bread dough was left to rise. These were valued at 5 shillings.
Her clothing and money in her purse came to 5 shillings.
Although Agnes Johnson’s possessions seem sparse, she was not an impoverished widow. A poorer woman would have had utensils made of patten, a cheaper alloy than brass, and wooden vessels rather than pewter. However, Agnes had no glass in her windows or cloth hangings on her walls to keep out draughts.
Outside in her yard was an open-sided shed called a hovel, three hens and a cock, valued at 3s 4d. She also owned two cows and a calf worth £3, so was able to produce her own milk and eggs.
Market Deeping had four open fields, where cottagers were allocated strips of land to grow crops. At the time of her death, Agnes or a member of her family, had planted one acre of wheat & rye, an acre of barley, an acre of peas, an acre of lentils and half an acre of wheat, valued at £5.
As we celebrate the memory of Shakespeare 400 years after his death, consider Agnes Johnson whose simple life has been forgotten, buried in the churchyard of St. Guthlac’s, Market Deeping all this time.
Our final talk of the season is on Thursday 12th May, when Dr Simon Pawley, a local historian from Sleaford, will give an insight into the significance of that traditional market town, long the capital of Kesteven. Sleaford can trace its story back to the Iron Age and during the Anglo-Saxon period became an administrative and marketing centre for this part of Lincolnshire.
Just one of our local links: Kirk and Parry, a firm of builders and architects with a national reputation, were based in Sleaford. The firm drew up plans for the Green School cottage in 1859 and for Deeping St Nicholas Church 1845-6. Charles Kirk (1825-1902) the younger was involved when the Police Station was built in the Market Place in 1880.