Codford Probate Inventories, Sally Thomson


During the period 1529-1750, the Probate Courts frequently insisted upon an inventory of the deceased’s goods and chattels being drawn up, especially if he or she died intestate. Most surviving inventories come from the period 1570-1720, though a number outside these dates are to be found.

Most inventories are found with the local probate records in County Record Offices, though a small number may be found in the Public Record Office. My particular study has been with the inventories of Codford in Wiltshire and there are some 142 of these, dating from 1552 to 1760. Spellings and writing are extremely idiosyncratic, which makes the process of transcription highly entertaining.

Codford was a self-sufficient corn and sheep community, but denied the ability to experiment with new agricultural practices by its being unenclosed until fairly late (Codford St.Peter 1810, Codford St.Mary 1840). Its only break from traditional medieval farming methods was the construction of water meadows in the 17th century, which significantly increased the local corn yield. However, there must have been great excitement some time in the 1640s, when John Richards acquired some turkeys. Two are listed in his inventory of 1647. The villagers must have been curious to see these monstrous birds from the New World. So far, the only other reference I have found to turkeys is in an inventory of 1650 for Stoneleigh, Warwickshire. Was this a first for Codford? Perhaps other members can beat this record.

Codford may have been something of an agricultural backwater in many respects, but there were some members of the community who did very nicely and this is evident in the luxury items in their inventories. Several of the early lists include ‘stayn’d hangings’ or ‘painted hangings’. These were wall decorations, hand-painted, possibly hung from batons to decorate a room. Four-poster beds are in evidence from the mention of bed-hangings and testers (bed-roofs), some of which were made of cloth, some of painted boards. The beds themselves (what we would now call the mattress) were a sure sign of wealth – feather-stuffed for the well-off, flock (short wool clippings) for the average householder and dust or ‘oaten chaff ’ for the poorer members. The occasional mirror or looking glass turns up, one of which was hanging in the ‘entry’ of John Ingram’s house in Ashton Gifford, an instance of the modern ‘hall’.

Surprisingly, books were not unusual in Codford and one young broadweaver had a ‘Psalter book’ among his few possessions when he died suddenly in 1646. Several people had Bibles and Christopher Dugdale, the Rector of Codford St.Peter, had ‘one Presse full of Bookes’ in his chamber when he died in 1633. The Rectory still stands and the rooms in the inventory are named; so a comparison on the ground would be most interesting.

One or two men in Codford were extremely wealthy for the times, with their total wealth amounting to well over £1,000 each. They were able to afford joined chairs, where the poor worker had only stools, nailed at the joints. Cushions, carpets (for tables, not floors) and napkins, were all signs of an aspiring yeomanry, as well as pieces of silver and glass.