The Gurton Family of Goldhanger

Several members of the Gurton family lived in and around the village in the 18th and 19th centuries. They are noted for their association with an apparently non-conformist chapel that was at one time close to Chappel Farm, and on the boundary between Goldhanger and Little Totham Parishes. The farm undoubtedly acquired its name from its association with the chapel.  A member of the Gurton family also created a Trust for the benefit of the village poor of Goldhanger that is still in operation.

Sources of information

One of the Gurton gravestones in St Peter’s Church graveyard dated 1888 is dedicated to John & Charlot Gurton. It is also engraved with “and family”, which is very unusual and one wonders why the family were all buried together.

The names of members of the family are known from early Tithe maps and Awards listings, 19th century census returns, and from newspaper adverts and reports. The Gurtons were a large family with members living in Little Totham, Tolleshunt Major, Tollesbury, Tillingham and elsewhere. However here we focus only on those members of the family who lived within the Parish or immediately adjacent to it.

As well as there being many members of the Gurton family in the area, the same christian names were passed down through the family and there were several Edwards, Stephens, Daniels and Johns and more than one Edward Gurton is identified in this study.  No attempt has been make to establish their relationships.

These two advertisements from the 1840s to a “Grove Chapel” at Goldhanger...

 

In 2005 Lorna Key wrote and published  Little Totham - The Story of a small village which includes this description of Chappel Farm...

Chappel Farm preserves the memory of the chapel of Little Totham, and was mentioned in 1396 and 1578. The present house dates from 1812 at the front and the 16th century at the rear...

...The property includes two cottages, brick, stud and plaster built, thatched, and known as Bobbetts Hole, with detached brick and tile wash houses fitted with two copper coppers and an iron-roofed poultry house with a fenced in yard, a capital garden with well and pump on the opposite side of the road. Bobbets Hole is on the corner just before Blind Lane with the two cottages, Crabbs Cottages, nearly opposite.

There is more history of the Grove Chapel at... The Chapel at Chappel farm

It is known that several members of the Gurton family where associated with the “Peculiar Peoples” churches and it seems that the Grove Chapel could have been used as a Peculiar Peoples Chapel in their day.

The “Peculiar People” and their Chapels

The founder of the Peculiar Peoples group was James Banyard, who was a farm worker at Rochford in Essex.  He built his first chapel at Rochford in 1850 (after the Goldhanger Grove Chapel was up for sale in 1842-47).  The word peculiar originates from Latin peculiaris, meaning special. At that time, peculiar was being used to mean “unusual individuals”. However the reputation of the members of the sect led to a change in the meaning of the word to become odd, curious, eccentric, etc.

At the height of the Peculiar People’s popularity there were 43 chapels, manly in the Essex, with a few in East London and Kent. In 1956 the Peculiar People’s movement changed their name to The Union of Evangelical Churches. Sixteen chapels remain, mostly in Essex. This photograph of their harvest supper in Shire Hall Chelmsford in 1920 has 700 guests and demonstrates their significance at that time...

The Peculiar People practised a form of non-conformist evangelical worship and followed a rigid interpretation of the King James Bible. They practised faith healing and did not seek medical care in cases of sickness, instead relying only on prayer. This frequently resulted in deaths, particularly of children, and their parents were often put on trial following the deaths.

Some parents were imprisoned after a 1910 diphtheria outbreak in Essex, causing a split within the church between the 'Old Peculiars', who still rebuffed medicine, and the 'New Peculiars', who reluctantly accepted it. The split eventually ended in the 1930s after the New Peculiar’s stance prevailed. The last newspaper report of a prosecution in dated 1936 (some newspaper extracts are given below).

It may well be that a local diphtheria outbreak caused the deaths of children in the Gurton family and that might explain why one of the graves in St Peters churchyard has "and Family" engraved on it and that also may well have brought about the demise of the Grove Chapel. The only graveyard provided especially for Peculiar Peoples members was at the Dawes Heath chapel and other members of the sect were usually buried in CoE graveyards.

No photograph of the Grove Chapel has been found, however there are many photos of other Peculiar Peoples Chapels in the area. Below are some examples. The nearest surviving chapel is at Little Totham which was built in 1890. It is now called Little Totham Evangelical Church and it is known that members of the local Gurton family where associated with this chapel in the past.

Related religious sects of interest

The Grove Chapel was advertised for sale before most Peculiar Peoples Chapels were built and as it appears to have existed for hundreds of years. Therefore, it is likely that the chapel was originally created to support some other religious movement. Methodists are the most probable, as the Peculiar Peoples movement originally broke away from them. More of this in... The Chapel at Chappel farm

The Gurton Trust

In 1913 Edward Walter Gurton established a Trust to “distribute the interest every Christmas for the benefit of the sick, ages and poor of the village”.The Trust is still in operation and is registered at with the Charity Commission with Charity No. 210841. Although he lived the later part of his life in Harrogate, Edward Walter Gurton chose to be buried at Goldhanger.  Charities for the sick and poor has more about this.

This is from the Yorkshire Evening Post in 1913…

Other Charitable Trusts that the family may have been associated with

1820 and 1838 Goldhanger Tithe Awards (shown at the top of this page) both identify a John Gurton as the occupier of property number 136. That property was owned by William Bentall of Goldhanger plough fame, but from the maps and other information we know it to be either Charity Farmhouse or Charity Cottage, both of which are adjacent to the former Scotts & Motts Farm on the Maldon Rd. This farm was owned by the Witham Poor Trustees who supported the Newland Street Almshouses in Witham. So it appears that members of the Gurton family were involved with at least three charitable trusts. See also... Charities for the sick and poor

Related newspaper extracts from the time

A search has been undertaken for any references to epidemics that could have struck the local Gurton family. No specific incident has been discovered, however these references were found...

1880's         a typhoid epidemic in Danbury

1888            a scarlet fever epidemic in London

1889-1890  measles and influenza pandemic affecting between a third & a half of the UK population

There are also many newspaper articles in the 1800s that reported on Peculiar People members being prosecuted for allowing their children to die, These reports, shown in chronological order, are perhaps of significance...

This article describes a “Diana Gurton” of Tillingham giving evidence for the defence of a father who allowed his daughter to die without medical treatment.

 

This editorial refers to diphtheria killing two school children at Chelmsford. It goes on to criticise the “Peculiar Peoples” attitude that it is acceptable to ask for medical aid to fix broken bones but not to ask them to treat diseases.

This article refers to another diphtheria outbreak at Chelmsford in 1888 and reports of 30 cases affecting 13 families. (1888 is the date on the grave at Goldhanger)

 

This report in The Times specifically refers to the Peculiar People of Essex being struck down by the flu and smallpox and says they are disregarding their “”rule of faith” and calling in the local doctors.

 

Joshua Gurton, aged six and son of Mark Gurton of Southminster died after a 5-week illness without medical attention. The parents were members of the local Peculiar Peoples church.

 

Six years later the same Mark Gurton of Southminster was speaking in Witham at a “Liberty section” meeting of the Peculiar People. The article explains that the liberty section allowed members to seek medical assistance.

 

A summary of the findings

o   Several members of the Gurton family are buried in Goldhanger Churchyard.

o   One of the graves, dated 1888, is inscribed “and family” which is unusual.

o   Property sale adverts and census returns indicated the family was associated with a “Grove Chapel”.

o   That chapel was very close to Chappel Farm, on the boundary between Goldhanger and Lt.Totham.

o   There are references to a chapel at Chappel Farm in 1396 and 1578.

o   This is undoubtedly where the farm name originates from.

o   A published book in 1839 refers to “Lt.Totham Chapel, in the Parish of Goldhanger”.

o   Land in that area had a long association with trusts for the poor, the Church and local Rectors.

o   Ancient maps indicates that the chapel was at Bobbets Hole, Wash Lane, Goldhanger.

o   The location was once at a busy crossroads but is now just a bend in the road and the corner of a field.

o   In the 1800s the Gurton family were members of local “Peculiar Peoples” Churches.

o   In the late 1800s many Peculiar Peoples chapels were built in Essex, including one at Lt.Totham.

o   The Chapel at Bobbets Hole pre-dates these chapels, so would have been used by other denominations.

o   Methodist and Antinomians were known to operate locally, so they and others could have been used it.

o   Many Peculiar Peoples members refused medical help and were prosecuted for the deaths of their children.

o   There were several epidemics causing child deaths in the area in the 1880s.

o   This could well accounted for the “and family” wording on the Goldhanger grave.

o   In 1913 an Edward Gurton created the Gurton Trust to support the poor of the village, which still operates.

o   The family may well have had been involved with other trusts and charitable organisations in the past.

o   The chapel at Bobbets Hole seems to have disappeared at sometime between 1900 and 1942.

References

Goldhanger – an estuary village - Maura Benham, 1977

Little Totham - The Story of a small village - Lorna Key, 2005

The Ecclesiastical Legal Guide to Archbishops, Bishops and their Secretaries - J. S. Hodson, 1839

The Peculiar People - Mark Sorrel, 1979

A Dream Come True, The Story of of the Little Totham Evangelical Church - Lesley Shelley, 1990

 

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