An 1854 will


1. Introduction

2.The unedited text

3. The text (with notes and paragraph spaces added)

1. Introduction

I have copy-typed this from the hand-written version supplied by the probate registry. The testator was Sir John Dodson (the "Knight" in the text being his rank, not his surname), a judge of the ecclesiastical court of the Archbishopric of Canterbury.

It is unparagraphed, unpunctuated, and repetitive, and it has some unnecessary jargon. But it is far more succinct, more conveniently sized and bound, and despite the absence of any helpful formating much easier to read than the 1853 conveyance. It is divided into simply-structured, well-ordered, and comparatively short sentences, the ends of which are clear from the sense even though they are unmarked and buried in the long, unbroken, single paragraph.

On the whole the tone is refreshingly unpretentious for a formal legal document and I wonder if Sir John — a civil (Roman) lawyer rather than from the mainstream common law tradition — drafted it himself. Affectionate expressions are not unknown in wills but the sincerity of the references to "my dear wife" is suggested (if only tentatively and needing further research) by the respect she is accorded: at a time when no woman could vote and married women, and to a large exent their property, belonged to their husband, Lady Dodson was both first-named executor and first-named beneficiary, in each case before their adult son, who had been called to the bar the previous year. Note also the "request that [my brothers and] … sisters will kindly accept the[ir] legacies … as a small token of my love and affection".

We don't know the value of the estate nor the comparative values of the gifts to wife and son. The grant of probate shows that Sir John's "effects" were valued at "less than £45,000", but we don't know how much less, and I've not been able to discover how "effects" were defined in this context.

Judging by 20th century practice, "less than £45,000" suggests that the amount levied for tax or probate fees depended on which band (for example, "£20,000 - £45,000") the estate fell into. But I cannot find what, if any, bands applied in 1858, when the executors applied for probate.

Law dictionaries' definitions of the different types of property vary, and some are unreliably casual, but I think this is a fair outline:

Property is traditionally divided into two classes, "real" and "personal". Realty is freehold land (including structures on the land) and personalty is everything else (including leasehold land — and until the 1920s other forms of holding). "Chattels" is another word for personalty, but they are divided into "chattels real" (leasehold) and "chattels personal" (moveable property, including copyrights, patents, and company shares). The Administration of Estates Act 1925 defines "personal chattels" (though only for the purposes of that Act, and then only "unless the context otherwise requires") as:

"carriages, horses, stable furniture and effects (not used for business purposes), motor cars and accessories (not used for business purposes), garden effects, domestic animals, plate, plated articles, linen, china, glass, books, pictures, prints, furniture, jewellery, articles of household or personal use or ornament, musical and scientific instruments and apparatus, wines, liquors and consumable stores, but do not include any chattels used at the death of the intestate for business purposes nor money or securities for money".

"Goods" and "effects" both seem to be the same as chattels personal.

Stroud's Judicial Dictionary (4th edition, 1971) quotes different definitions of chattels for different purposes, and says (citations omitted):

"'Chattels' in a bequest includes debts…. Kitchen says, 'Money is not goods and chattels' … but [it seems that that] proposition must be accepted, if at all, with much qualification."

The will is drafted more consistently than the 1853 conveyance. For example, whereas in the conveyance gifts were expressed to be in favour of 13 seemingly random combinations of the beneficiary and "his heirs, assigns, appointees, executors", and others, the will has only

all other gifts being expressed as to the beneficiary alone, as in modern wills.

Only the gifts to the nephews and nieces are explicity limited to those "who shall be living at the time of my death", although of course any bequest (or devise) fails automatically if the beneficiary has predeceased the testator.

2. The unedited textinvisible textinvisible textinvisible textFast forward

I, The Right Honble Sir John Dodson Knight LL.D. of Doctors Commons in the City of London and of [Stanmore?] Place in the County of Middlesex formerly of Hertford Street May Fair in the said County and of Hurstpierpoint in the County of Sussex and of [Lichfield?] in the County of Stafford hereby revoking all former Wills and Codicils by me at any time heretofore made do make and declare this to be my last Will and Testament First I give devise and bequeath to my dear Wife Frances Priscilla Dodson her heirs executors administrators and assigns all my right title and interest in & to the leasehold house and premises No6 [Stanmore?] Place held under the Dean and Chapter of Westminster I also give & bequeath unto my said Wife all my furniture plate linen china wines pictures and other things in my said house and also all horses harness and carriages of which I may die possessed I give and bequeath to my sisters Mary Gaunt Wife of the Revd Charles Gaunt and Frances Constable Wife of the Revd John Constable the sum of One Hundred pounds each for their sole and separate use and benefit and I direct that their receipts alone shall be sufficient discharge to my Executors I also give and bequeath the sum of One Hundred pounds to each of my brothers The Revd Nathaniel Dodson the Revd Christopher Dodson and I request that they as well as my said sisters will kindly accept the legacies so left to them as a small token of my love and affection I give and bequeath to each of my nephews and nieces who shall be living at the time of my death the sum of Nineteen guineas I give to my servant Charles [Heemson?] commonly called “[Henry?]” the sum of Nineteen guineas if he shall continue in my service down to the time of my death I give and bequeath to my son John George Dodson his executors administrators and assigns all my shares and interest in the Legal and General Life Assurance Society or Company and also in the Law Fire Assurance Society or Company I also give and bequeath to my said son his executors administrators and assigns all my shares and interest in the [York?] Life Assurance Society or Company and also all my right title and interest in and to the sum of Two thousand pounds insured upon his life in the office of the said Society or Company together with all the bonusses [sic] or additions which have been hitherto or which may hereafter be assigned or added thereto I give devise and bequeath to my said son his executors administrators and assigns all and singular my lands houses tenements & hereditaments whether freehold or copyhold or leasehold or of what kind soever they may respectively be situate in the several parishes of Hurstpierpoint Clayton Keymer Bolney Pevensey or elsewhere within the County of Sussex I also give devise and bequeath to my said son the money payment arising out of the redemption of the land tax of the vicarage or Benefice of Patcham in the said County of Sussex I also give devise and bequeath to my said son his executors administrators and assigns all monies which may be owing to me upon mortgage of any lands houses tenements or hereditaments situate in the said County of Sussex I also give and bequeath to my said son the sum of Five thousand pounds sterling to be paid out of my personal estate All the rest residue and remainder of my lands houses tenements and hereditaments and of the estate both real and personal [whensoever?] and wheresoever and of what nature or kind soever belonging to me or over which I have any disposing power I give devise and bequeath to my said dear Wife her heirs executors administrators and assigns and I do hereby nominate and appoint my said dear Wife and son Executrix and Executor of this my last Will and Testament In witness whereof I the said John Dodson have hereunto set my hand this fourteenth day of August 1854 Signed and declared by the above named John Dodson as and for a Codicil to his last Will and Testament in the presence of us present at the same time who in his presence and in the presence of each other have hereunto subscribed our name as witnesses this 30th day of July 1857

(746 words)

3. The text (with notes and paragraph spaces added)

I, The Right Honble Sir John Dodson Knight LL.D.

of
Doctors Commons in the City of London and
of [Stanmore?] Place in the County of Middlesex
formerly of
Hertford Street May Fair in the said County and of
Hurstpierpoint in the County of Sussex and of
[Lichfield?] in the County of Stafford

Modern drafters give a more detailed current address (and more than one if necessary) but would consider previous addresses unnecessary.

hereby revoking all former Wills and Codicils by me at any time heretofore made

do make and declare this to be my last Will and Testament

First I give devise and bequeath to my dear Wife Frances Priscilla Dodson her heirs executors administrators and assigns all my right title and interest in & to the leasehold house and premises No6 [Stanmore?] Place held under the Dean and Chapter of Westminster

I was taught that real property was "devised" and personal property was "bequeathed". But since both mean "given by will" the distinction seems pointless, especially when the testator has begun the clause "I give". In any case, modern testators rarely (if ever) divide their estate in this way. To add to the sense of futility, Professor David Mellinkoff writes (in The Language of the Law ([1963, p.164]):

"Not until the nineteenth century did it become a lawyerly custom to devise realty and bequeath personalty, a subtlety contrary to the linguistic and legal history of the words and never uniform in practice."

I also give & bequeath unto my said Wife all my furniture plate linen china wines pictures and other things in my said house and also all horses harness and carriages of which I may die possessed

I give and bequeath to my sisters Mary Gaunt Wife of the Revd Charles Gaunt and Frances Constable Wife of the Revd John Constable the sum of One Hundred pounds each for their sole and separate use and benefit and I direct that their receipts alone shall be sufficient discharge to my Executors

The "sole and separate use and benefit" provision and the direction about receipts were necessary to circumvent the law then current that a gift to a married woman became her husband's property.

I also give and bequeath the sum of One Hundred pounds to each of my brothers The Revd Nathaniel Dodson the Revd Christopher Dodson and

I request that they as well as my said sisters will kindly accept the legacies so left to them as a small token of my love and affection

I give and bequeath to each of my nephews and nieces who shall be living at the time of my death the sum of Nineteen guineas

I give to my servant Charles [Heemson?] commonly called “[Henry?]” the sum of Nineteen guineas if he shall continue in my service down to the time of my death

A guinea was 21 shillings (which became £1.05 on decimalisation in 1971), so 19 guineas was only 5p less than £20. One wonders why, with other legacies given in pounds, these gifts were not expressed as £20.

In his 1869 will Charles Dickens also left 19 guineas to his servants and others while leaving larger amounts in pounds.

I give and bequeath to my son John George Dodson his executors administrators and assigns all my shares and interest in the Legal and General Life Assurance Society or Company and also in the Law Fire Assurance Society or Company

I also give and bequeath to my said son his executors administrators and assigns
all my shares and interest in the [York?] Life Assurance Society or Company and also

all my right title and interest in and to the sum of Two thousand pounds insured upon his life in the office of the said Society or Company together with all the bonusses [sic] or additions which have been hitherto or which may hereafter be assigned or added thereto
I give devise and bequeath to my said son his executors administrators and assigns all and singular my lands houses tenements & hereditaments whether freehold or copyhold or leasehold or of what kind soever they may respectively be situate in the several parishes of Hurstpierpoint Clayton Keymer Bolney Pevensey or elsewhere within the County of Sussex

Copyhold was abolished in 1922.

The 1970 8th edition of Mozley and Whiteley's Law Dictionary, edited by John B. Saunders, gives this definition:

"Copyhold signifies tenure by copy of court roll at the will of the lord of a manor according to the custom thereof. It is in manors only that copyholds are to be found; and it is by the immemorial custom of the particular manor that the copyholder's interest must be regulated. Copyholders were originally villeins or slaves, permitted by the lord, as an act of pure grace or favour, to enjoy the lands at his pleasure; being in general bound to the performance of certain circumstances. By the time of Edward III, the will of the lord came to be controlled by the custom of the manor. Under the provisions of the Law of Property Act, 1922, copyholds were enfranchised and became freehold (or in certain cases leasehold)."

I also give devise and bequeath to my said son the money payment arising out of the redemption of the land tax of the vicarage or Benefice of Patcham in the said County of Sussex

I also give devise and bequeath to my said son his executors administrators and assigns all monies which may be owing to me upon mortgage of any lands houses tenements or hereditaments situate in the said County of Sussex

I also give and bequeath to my said son the sum of Five thousand pounds sterling to be paid out of my personal estate

All the rest residue and remainder of my lands houses tenements and hereditaments and of the estate both real and personal [whensoever?] and wheresoever and of what nature or kind soever belonging to me or over which I have any disposing power I give devise and bequeath to my said dear Wife her heirs executors administrators and assigns and

I do hereby nominate and appoint my said dear Wife and son Executrix and Executor of this my last Will and Testament

In witness whereof I the said John Dodson have hereunto set my hand this fourteenth day of August 1854

Signed and declared by the above named John Dodson as and for a Codicil to his last Will and Testament in the presence of us present at the same time who in his presence and in the presence of each other have hereunto subscribed our name as witnesses this 30th day of July 1857

The 1857 codicil seems to have had no purpose other than to add the witnesses who appear to have been missing from the 1854 will. An unwitnessed will (as well as one which was incorrectly witnessed) would have been invalidated, then as now, by s.9 of the Wills Act 1837. A will may be witnessed without the fact being recorded but after the testator has died the executors will have to prove that all the formalities were complied with.


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