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William Souter Osborn(e)

1812 - 1885
The Gore Farm
East Dean
East Sussex
United Kingdom

William was likely born illegitimate. His father was William Osborn, a previously childless farmer from Cuckfield who had lost his first wife Sarah in 1810. William Souter's mother was Grace Souter, the 20 year old daughter of John (a labourer deceased) and Ann who were married in Plumpton in 1788. After the birth of their son, William and Grace married by Special License in East Chiltington in November of 1812. Perhaps originally called William Souter, after his parents marriage the baby was known as William Souter Osborn but it was many years later that he was formally christened.

After his birth his parents moved to Hammonds Mill in Clayton where he was joined by a sister Mary Ann in 1813 and John in 1816. All three children had Souter as a given name before Osborn, perhaps to avoid questions in later years by those querying William's name.

In 1817 the family moved to Warren Farm and Hoddon Farm, Telscombe where they carried on Downland farming for many years. Hoddern Farmhouse - the current building dates from the 18th century and for many years was the only house between the village of Piddinghoe and the sea. Originally known as Hoathdown Farm, Hoddern is a contraction of that name. Interestingly, Yeakell & Gardner's 1778-83 map has it as New Hall Farm as does the first OS map of 1813 whilst an estate map of 1806 has it as Hoathdown and the tithe map of 1843 calls it Lodge Farm. By the 1875 OS map it is back to Hoathdown and becomes Hoddern on the 1899 map.(source: Simon Carey

Picture - Hoddern or Hoddon Farmhouse

All three children were christened in Chailey in 1836, likely prompted perhaps by illness of their father who was to die of cancer two years later. In 1838 their father William Osborn died and his grave exists today in Telscombe church yard. It would appear that the children, particularly William and John continued with the farm at Telscombe.

William was the first of the three children to marry in 1841. He married Mary Verral the daughter of a substantial local farming family. In fact George. Mary's brother, was to take over Warren Farm in the second half of the 19th century. The Verralls were also a family noted for involvement in smuggling. In the 1820s a Verrall from Exceat Farm had been caught attempting to bribe a Blockade seaman to "turn a blind eye". (Waugh M (1985) p.114) The next of the three Osborn children to marry was Mary Ann, in 1845 marrying Edward Baker, son of a brickmaker and potter of nearby Piddinghoe, where there were also smuggling connections. John followed marrying Caroline Hills, a blacksmith's daughter from East Dean in 1850. The Smithy was well known for smuggling.

The census returns give an indication of how the family maintained their farming presence in Telscombe over the mid 19th century. In 1841 the Osborn's are at Newdean Farm with the exception of William and his new wife Mary who are elsewhere in the parish. By 1851 the Newdean family has dispersed but William is at Hoddern Farm comprising 22 acres (this may be a misprint for 22? acres) employing 13 labourers. By 1861 William is farming 226 acres at Warren Farm with 9 men and two boys. Brother John and Caroline had gone to farm Hodcomb on the Downland by Beachy Head after their marriage, subsequently to emigrate in 1855. Mary Ann had gone to the Bakers.

William and Mary had a substantial family while at Telscombe: William born 1841 died an infant in 1846; Mary, born 1843; John born 1845 died an infant 1846; Grace born 1847; Martha born 1848; Elizabeth born 1850; Louise/Anna born 1853; George born 1854; Joseph born 1856 and John Verral born 1857. The two infant deaths occurred within 11 days and were likely attributable to an infection that both boys succumbed to.

William's status in the community is demonstrated by his appointment as an overseer for Telscombe from 1840.(Sussex Advertiser; 4 April 1840, 12 April 1841, 14 April 1846, 2 April 1850, 27 March 1855). This was a joint appointment in 1840 with J Verrall and later with Charles Beard made by the County Bench (ESRO XA28/23}. In 1856 William is recorded in Telscombe as securing a general gaming certificate at a price of 4 pounds 10 pence. (Sussex Advertiser 23 Sept. 1856)

An interesting incident took place in 1856. In the County Court Quarter Sessions there is recorded a case at the Midsummer Sessions on 30 June of William Souter Osborne and others against Thomas Gillett, where prosecution allowances of Pounds 12/0s/6d were approved. It was alleged that on 20th May said Thomas Gillett stole one copper handle dish, one Mug and four Bullock Mats?, the property of WSO together with other property of the other plaintiffs. Pleading guilty, Thomas Gillet was sent to Lewes Prison for 4 calendar months with hard labour and solitary confinement. He clearly upset the wrong people. Described as a Marine Store Dealer, Gillett was in fact a dealer in scrap. More details can be seen on the Destiny profile of John Donovan who was of a similar calling.

William and Mary stayed on at Telscombe until 1863 when they took over as tenants the extensive Gore Farm at East Dean on a 21 year lease. This is near Hodcomb where brother John and wife Caroline had farmed prior to disappearing 8 years previous. It was also adjacent to the East Dean blacksmiths forge where brother John's two surviving children were being brought up by the grandparents, the Hills and Telegraph House where daughter Grace was to bring up the Adamson family.

At the Gore Farm, including Peak Dean, William Souter Osborn is described as a Farmer, Grazier and Steam Threshing Machine Proprietor. And there is no doubt that this was a substantial enterprise. The main farming was dairy and arable, wheat and barley with oats for the livestock. The farmhouse was a substantial building on the main Brighton to Eastbourne road and comprised a slate roof, brick and flint lower walls with wattle and daub above. Such luxuries as electiicity and gas had to await the 20th century.

Between the years 1867 and 1892 William Souter Osborn is recorded as the Proprietor of the brick yard at Piddinghoe. This was at a time when the fortunes were waning and no doubt his investment in his sisters husband's business assisted in maintaining viability for a few more years. This was in spite of his sister Mary Ann having died in 1855 before her time.

Picture - The Gore Farmhouse behind the Tiger Inn, East Dean'

The 1880s brought financial problems to the Osborn family in East Dean however. The diaries of their niece Ruth Morris, nee Verrall, have survived in East Sussex Record Office (AMS6572/61-4). The Morris's lived locally and socialised with the Osborn's.

On Thursday 2 Nov. 1882, the diaries note that Uncle Osborn paid interest to mother 2 years or more owing. Clearing his debts however was a problem for William Osborn as we learn in an entry dated Friday 8th February 1883. The same day Jake had a notice from Coles and Carr Eastbourne to inform them that Uncle Osborn had declared himself bankrupt and called a meeting of creditors. Mr Brand came up after we had been driving Lydia and Norah up, they wanted to talk over Uncle Osborn's affairs. Hills the blacksmith put in an execution for 150 pounds. A very sad business altogether. (Note: One senses a tension here between the Hills who earlier raised 2 of William's brother's estranged children. The 150 pounds would have been a salary for a farm manager for approximately two years and was therefore a substantial sum)

Three days later on the 11th we learn that The Osborn's have taken a house in Pelham Place, Mr Gorring has promised to be responsible for 2-3 years rent. They called on Lydia and find themselves very little troubled over Uncle's affairs. Calling it a scandalous thing for people to break him up. Ester to Chapel, they saw George for the first time at Chapel ?????? he seemed very cheerful apparently not having been told of his Uncles failures.

The word soon spreads and on the 13th Feb we learn that Annie Osborn does not know anything of Uncle's misfortune but Mrs Gorringe told her that they were in trouble at home.

On Friday 23 February 1883 Jake went to Eastbourne to a meeting of Uncle's creditors, they agreed to take 10/- in the pound. Uncle owes poor old Mrs Cahvole? 100 pounds and she will only get 50, she is laid up with cancer in her side.

In spite of his indebtedness, at the age of 71 Willaim Osborn's world had clearly not come to an end. He was to remain at the Gore Farm until his death through probable heart disease two years later.

The Osborn graves are in East Dean churchyard.
William Souter Osborn died at East Dean in April 1885 and his wife Mary followed in August of the same year. His estate was valued at 2138pounds/16s/4d gross, a substantial sum in those days. This raises the question was the bankruptcy a ploy to reduce his indebtedness? The demise of William is recorded in Ruth Morris's diary: Easter Monday 6 April 1886 Annie found Uncle Osborn dead in bed yesterday morning.

There then follows an unclear entry for the 9th April: Uncle Osborn buried in East Dean Church Yard in John's grave at three o'clock in the afternoon. Geo fres?, Mr Adamson, Jake, Mr Braud, Mr John Fre Gorringe Edward and Frank & Mr Jo Verrall Jollmeds Birnie very hed all day Mrs Geo was there. Charles drove into Lewes at night for Jake. Uncle died in his sleep from failure of heart arteries.(Mr and Mrs George Osborn appear to have been present)

There then followed a further entry on Wednesday 10th June saying that Pathis? Osborn had died. Jake went to her funeral on the 13 June 1885. As if that was not enough, on Thursday August 20th Had a letter from Mary Osborn to say that Aunt Osborn had died ..... what suddenly on Wednesday.

William S and Mary Osborn's grave exists in East Dean church yard. The Gore Farm and Peak Dean was eventually auctioned in September 1920. The house was demolished in 1970.

A little is know of the fortunes of the children of William and Mary.

William, born 1841, died an enfant in 1846.

Mary, born 1843, was living in 12 Pelham Place, Seaford in 1885/6. The Verrall diaries record in July 1896 that she has moved to Croydon. This is shortly before her cousin John William Osborn also moves to Croydon in 1900. Mary ran a boarding house at 4 Sydenham Road North with her niece Ada M Adamson. Local Directories indicate that they were at the boarding house from 1887-1902. Named Atherton, it was a stylish double fronted detached house near St James's Church.

By 1911 however Mary had relocated at 58 London Road, Reading. Here she lived with her widowed sister Grace and one of Grace's children, Marian, who had married a Thomas Swan, also present. Thomas was a Ship Broker, born in Turkey but British by parenting. The household included in addition, two boarders and a general servant.

John, born 1845, died the following year.

Grace, born 1847, married Edward W Adamson who was in charge of the local Telegraph Relay Station. They lived in East Dean at the Telegraph Office where they brought up a family of 6 children. (see separate Destiny page for Grace by clicking below)

Martha, born 1848, died at East Dean in 1885.

Elizabeth, born 1850, was still with the family in East Dean in 1881.

Louise/Anna, born 1853, went with brother George to Seaford after William's death and then on to Barnhorn with the family.

George, born 1854, married in 1883 Josephine Gay, a Swiss Governess and daughter of a Jeweller; she was residing in Eastbourne previously although the marriage was in London. After farming in Barnhorn, Bexhill, the family head off for San Francisco in 1891 where George dies the same year. (see separate Destiny page for George by clicking below)

Joseph, born 1856, married Anna Woodham and they had a daughter Ruby in 1889 who died in 1976 unmarried. The Verrall diaries record much of Joseph's life. He married Anna Maria in Seaford about the 30 Oct 1885 (BMD Steyning p.2b 499). The following year they went to Bexhill where in 1887 they were in Barnhorn where Joe was a partner with brother George. Kelly's Directory for 1887 records Joseph as a farm bailiff to Joseph Gorringe esq. at Gore Farm and Peckdean Farm, East Dean. This suggests that they took over his father's farm for a short while after WSO's death two years earlier. In 1889 they moved briefly to Northease and the following year they had to leave East Dean. They farmed in Wadhurst before moving in with Anna's sister Susan in Upper Dicker by 1901. Here Joe was a Commission Agent and living in the Blacksmith's premises. The diaries record that, in May 1892 Annie came to tea and was bad tempered two days later.

Lastly, John Verral, born 1857 died in East Dean in 1875.

The Warren Farm at Telscombe in the early 20th century was substantially enlarged and transformed by a Captain Makay. In the 1950s it was sold and turned into a Country Club. In 1970 it was sold to developers and all that remains is Warren Way and Tye View. (see Troak M (2008) p.52-58)

The Gore Farm at East Dean subsequently became a petrol filling station and then was developed as residential housing.

Bibliography: Troak M (2008) "The Changing Years" New Anzac: Waugh M (1985) "Smuggling in Kent and Sussex 1700-1840" Countryside Books.

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William Osborn - yeoman farmer

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Grace Osborn (formerly Souter)

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Mary Osborn (formerly Verral)

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William Osborn 1841-1846

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Mary Osborn 1843-?

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John Osborn 1845-1846

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Grace Osborn 1847-1938

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Martha Osborn 1848-1885

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Elizabeth Osborn 1850-?

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Louise/Anna Osborn 1853-?

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George Osborn 1854-1891

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Joseph Osborn 1856-?

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John Verral Osborn 1857-1875


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