The Sherson family of Fetcham, Surrey

Construction of Blackfriars Bridge, London 1775.

The Sherson family connection to the Belcombe family of York is evident from the baptismal certificates of both Sarah Anne Sherson Bulcock (Belcombe) and Mariana Percy Belcombe. Sarah Anne or Nantz as she was familiarly called, was christened in the parish of St.Martin-in-the-Field’s, London in 1785 whilst her parents Dr. William and Mary Ann Bulcock (Belcombe) were living in the city. This was a year prior to the family leaving for Gottingen, Germany where Dr. William was to begin his thesis at the university there. In giving Sarah Anne the additional name of Sherson, we can assume that William and Mary Ann Belcombe had high regard for the holder of this surname and had Sarah Anne named in deference to someone within the Sherson family. Mariana Percy Belcombe’s baptism certificate from Vienne, France in 1788 names an Abraham Kirkpatrick Sherson as a godparent along with Elizabeth Bligh and a Mr. James Percy. (See previous Elizabeth Bligh post). One could deduce that maybe this was the member of the Sherson family that Sarah Anne had been named after 3 years previously, however, as records of the Sherson family show, Abraham was born in 1770 and therefore 15 years of age at the time of Sarah’s baptism. In my opinion, it is doubtful that the Belcombes would have named Sarah Anne after someone so young in age and worldy wisdom. When we look at the surnames acquired by the other Belcombe siblings: Henrietta Willan, Mariana Percy, Louisa Travis Meynell, Henry Stephens and Eliza Hibbert, a pattern of naming the Belcombe children after people who were either older relations and/or held in high esteem professionally by William and Mary Ann will emerge. Young Abraham Kirkpatrick Sherson at the time of Sarah Anne’s baptism does not quite fit the bill.

Abraham Kirkpatrick Sherson (Apr 1770 – 22 May 1825 ), godparent of Mariana Percy Belcombe . Copyright V&A Museum London

In my previous post I discussed Elizabeth Bligh, other godparent to Marianna Percy Belcombe and cousin to Mrs. Belcombe. The divorce which her husband Shuldham Peard applied for to the House of Commons in 1799 is documented in the Journal of the House of Lords 1799 and during the case a Dr. Sherson was summoned to answer questions regarding the birth of Elizabeth’s daughter in Gosport, Hampshire whilst her husband was at sea over an extended period of time with the Royal Navy.

Dr. Sherson’s responding to questions during the Divorce Bill of Shuldham Peard and Elizabeth Bligh from the Journal of the House of Lords (1799)
Mr. Stephens whose house the child was born in was husband to Ann Stephens, aunt of Elizabeth Bligh through her father Richard Rodney Bligh and in my opinion aunt of Mrs. Marianna Belcombe through her mother Ann Mountford nee Bligh.

I believe that this Dr. Sherson is whom Sarah Anne was named after and not Abraham Kirkpatrick Sherson, his son and godparent of Mariana Percy. So who exactly was this Dr. Sherson and what was his connection with the Belcombes? To unravel this we have to look at the genealogy of the Sherson family to reveal any connections with the Belcombes whilst they were resident in London circa 1783-1786.

In the parish church of Fetcham, a village in Surrey, is a memorial inscription in memory of Robert Sherson, M.D, F.A.S., who died January 6th, 1821 aged 84 years. His wife Mary Sherson is also remembered – she died May 11th, 1815, aged 77. This Robert Sherson is the doctor I believe who attended to Elizabeth Bligh after the birth of her child in 1797 and of whom Sarah Anne Sherson Belcombe is named after. Robert Sherson was born on the 29th July, 1736 at Lancaster and was the eight child of Alexander Sherson (Attorney-at-law) and Bridget Nowell (of the Nowell’s of Read Hall, Lancs). The Sherson’s were originally yeoman whose social position improved during the life of Thomas Sherson, Mayor of Lancaster (d.1725) and his nephew and heir Thomas (d.1725) who married into the wealthy Nowell line, a family who were one of the leading landed families of the county of Lancashire for the previous 400 years (see Alexander Nowell, Dean of St. Paul’s during the reign of Elizabeth I for Nowell lineage).

Dr. Robert Sherson’s father Alexander married his first cousin Bridget Nowell and by 1718 had the become the sole male heir to his father’s and uncle’s estates. After the death of three children Bridget later gave birth to two sons and three daughters. The youngest son was Robert (later Dr. Sherson) and he was baptised on September 1st, 1736 in Lancaster. The following year Robert’s father died unexpectedly at the age of 36 leaving his wife Bridget with five children to rear (she was pregnant with twins at the death of her husband but lost them during the pregnancy). The unexpected nature of his death can be gleamed by the fact that he left no will. This would eventually thrust Bridget into dire straits financially and with her brother Alexander, heir to Read Hall severely in debt, there was little assistance to be found for Bridget. What happens to the family next demonstrates the strong character of Bridget Sherson and her determination to prevent her family becoming destitute. She somehow found the sum of £42 to fund the apprenticeship of her son Robert to an apothecary James Dickenson in Lancaster where he spent seven years learning the trade. By 1758, Bridget, her two sons and her three daughters are in London where they settled in the parish of St.Giles-in-the-Field, the same church Robert Sherson’s sister Rebecca marries an apothecary names James Ellison in April 1758. Robert Sherson was to marry five weeks later to Margaret Morris, a daughter of the apothecary Dr. Charles Morris of Lime Street and Richmond, London and subsequently moved from St.Giles-on-the-Parish to Lime Street. Robert Sherson and his wife had seven children after their marriage but tragically none of them survived past the age of five. During this period Robert was establishing himself as an apothecary in London and possibly through the help of his father-in-law Dr. Morris, Robert was admitted to the Society of Apothecaries in 1762 and later on in the same year became a freeman of London.

By mid- 1768, Dr. Robert Sherson’s first wife Margaret Morris had passed away and he remarried on the 4th August 1768 to Elizabeth Kirkpatrick at St. Mary’s, Islington. Elizabeth was the daughter of Abraham Kirkpatrick (from a line of the Baronets of Closeburn) who was a Spanish trader based at Malaga where he conducted his wine merchant business. Abraham’s father Robert was based in London as part of the business and occupied the house next door to the Sherson family at Lime Street Square.

Robert Sherson and Elizabeth Kirkpatrick had only one child, Abraham Kirkpatrick Sherson who was born on the 11th April 1770. Elizabeth his mother, died the following year leaving Abraham motherless at the age of one. Robert Sherson’s indomitable mother Bridget Sherson became Abraham’s main carer along with his two unmarried aunts, Dorothy and Bridget Sherson. This is the Abraham Kirkpatrick Sherson who would, in 1788, find himself as godfather to Mariana Percy Belcombe.

Dr. Robert Sherson was to marry in August 1773 for a third time to a widow, Elizabeth Smith nee Mapp, daughter and sole heir to Samuel Mapp, Member of the House of Assembly in Barbados and a wealthy landowner but she passed away in December of the same year bequeathing her Barbados estates to the children of her first marriage. Dr. Robert Sherson was widowed for the third time and Abraham Kirkpatrick Sherson was still his only living son and heir.

Dr. Sherson was to marry for the fourth time, aged 39, the following year to Mary Thoyts, aged 37 and widow of John Thoyts, a rich coppersmith who resided in Whitechapel with a country house in Merton, Surrey and an estate in Sulhamstead, Berkshire. Abraham Kirkpatrick Sherson was 5 years of age. Mary Thoyt’s inherited a staggering amount of wealth from her father before her marriage and also from her late husband. Her two sons from this marriage received £12,000 each at the age of 21 and this gives an idea into the wealth Dr. Sherson now had married into. Robert Sherson and Mary Thoyts welcomed a son in June 1777 whom they names Robert. This was Dr. Robert Sherson’s second son who would live to adulthood, half-brother to Abraham Kirkpatrick Sherson.

Towards the end of 1779 Robert and his family moved to 18 New Bridge Street, Blackfriars, London. When Robert’s second wife’s mother Anne Kirkpatrick (grandmother of Abraham Kirkpatrick Sherson) died in 1787 she had accumulated an enormous amount of wealth inherited from her extended family. Abraham Kirkpatrick Sherson was her sole heir and inherited from her a Manor in Somerset and extensive property in other counties along with money and shares when he reached the age of 21, until then he was to receive £50 a year towards his expenses and education whilst he attending Merton College in Oxford where he matriculated in 1789. It is interesting that Abraham Kirkpatrick Sherson was in the south of France with the Belcombe family in 1788, a year before he graduated.

Abraham’s half-brother Robert was educated at Winchester College before he was expelled with others after an incident at the school in 1793 called the “Great Rebellion” where scholars barricaded themselves into their living quarters armed with guns and provisions. His father Dr. Sherson had him enlist afterwards in the East India company and he sailed to work in Fort St. George, Madras, India.

When Abraham Kirkpatrick Sherson graduated from Oxford in 1789 his father had already plans in place for Abraham. Dr. Sherson had purchased the Parsonage House at Fetcham, Surrey in order for his son Abraham to be the village rector whilst he acquired a house for himself nearby and named it Bridge House (later Fetcham Grove). He would move here from London in 1809 on his retirement. On the 27th June 1794 Abraham Kirkpatrick Sherson was installed as Rector of Fetcham. He was married that October 4th to Maria Donnithorne, eldest daughter of Nicholas Donnithorne, merchant and former business partner of Robert Sherson in a marine metal venture. Abraham as part of the wedding settlement now received his vast inheritance form his maternal grandmother Anne Kirkpatrick.

His father Robert returned to London after the marriage and continued his work as an apothecary. His long career began to be honoured by his fellow apothecaries and other distinguished medical men in London at the time. In 1795, Dr. Sherson was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquities with the backing of five established Fellows at the Society. He was later elected to the Society of Apothecaries and elevated to Master of the Company at the society even though evidence suggests he was frequently absent from meetings.

Meanwhile, Abraham Kirkpatrick and Maria’s only child, a daughter named Anna Sherson, was born on the 7th July 1796 at the Rectory in Fetcham. Very scant details exist for Anna, her death is recorded as the 26th June 1869 at Hyde Park, London in the area of Mayfair. She would have been without a doubt extremely wealthy as the sole heiress to her family’s wealth. She died within a year of her father’s godchild Mariana Percy Belcombe and one has to wonder if the two women were in contact as Mariana and her sister Louisa were residing just three miles away at Belsize Park, Hampstead.

Dr. Robert Sherson was to marry for a FIFTH time after the death of his fourth wife Mary Thoyts. On the 22nd July 1816 aged 80, he was married to much younger Anne Fisher, daughter of Richard Fisher of Reading. This marriage lasted 5 years until Dr. Sherson passed away aged 85 on the 6th January 1821. He was buried at Fetcham, his wife Anne Fisher Sherson survived him until her death in 1862, giving us an indication of the age gap between them both.

Obituary for Dr. Robert Sherson , The Monthly Magazine Vol. 51. 1821

Abraham Kirkpatrick Sherson seems to have lived a quiet life as the wealthy Rector of Fetcham until he sold the Parsonage in 1818. He retired to Buntingford, Hertfordshire where he had distant relatives and he passed away on the 22nd May 1825.

The Sherson family line continued through Abraham Kirkpatrick Sherson’s half-brother Robert who had been based at Madras during the 1820’s and subject to an inquiry into fraud at a grain depot but later pardoned and compensated handsomely. Robert had a son Alexander Nowell Sherson of the Seaforth Rangers who married Lady Anne Maria Townsend, daughter of the 4th Marquis Townsend and their children continued the Sherson name.

To conclude, I refer back to the question at the start of this page: “So who exactly was this Dr. Sherson and what was his connection with the Belcombes?”

  • We know that Dr. Robert Sherson was an apothecary in London at the time that William and Mariana Belcombe were living in the area. William Belcombe would have been aged in his late twenties.(mid 1780’s)
  • William Belcombe named his daughter Sarah Anne Sherson in 1785 after someone he knew at the time and would have held in good esteem named Sherson.
  • William Belcombe was studying to become a doctor and would have been known amongst the medical profession in London especially after his work as a Navy surgeon in the Leeward Islands and therefore we can speculate this is how Dr. Belcombe may have known Dr. Sherson.
  • Dr. Robert Sherson’s son Abraham Kirkpatrick Sherson was present at the baptism of Mariana Percy Belcombe in Vienne, France in 1788 and named as godparent, he was aged 18.
  • Sarah Anne Sherson (Nantz) was baptised in 1785 in London. As Abraham Kirkpatrick Sherson was aged 15, I doubt it was he whom Sarah was named after and in fact it was his father, Dr. Robert Sherson.
  • Dr. Robert Sherson was present after the birth of Elizabeth Bligh’s daughter in 1799 in Gosport, Hampshire. Elizabeth Bligh who was Mariana Percy Belcombe’s godmother and cousin of Mrs. Belcombe

…and finally, I have mentioned Dr. Robert Sherson’s entrance into the Society of Antiquaries in 1795 by election of five standing members. It is of significance interest to me that one of the five subscribers to bear testimony on the character of Dr. Robert Sherson was a Dr. Robert Willan. As we can place Dr. William Belcombe in London at the time with close ties to Dr. Sherson, close enough to name his daughter after, could this Dr. Robert Willan also have been a close contact to William Belcombe, close enough for him to name his second eldest daughter Henrietta “Harriet” Willan Belcombe after? I think so.

for info on Dr. Robert Willan see

April 23,2020

Any corrections or omissions contact the author @sjriocain

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