Many of the élite families in Abingdon’s history may not have regarded themselves as Abingdon families at all. They were, rather, branches from trunks that flourished elsewhere. They might have kept in close contact with their ancestral homes and returned there to be buried. Examples are the Knapps of Chilton, the Morlands of West Ilsley, the Bowles of Longworth.
There were three Sellwood families in Abingdon at different times. They were not directly descended from each other; one probably and two certainly came from the contiguous villages of Eaton and Appleton, some five miles to the north-west.
The first of these families appeared in the mid-sixteenth century with Thomas and Elizabeth Sellwood who had children baptised at St Helen’s, as did, in the following generation, Christopher and Joan. An unfortunate Anne Sellwood buried an illegitimate daughter Sysliein 1559. But none of these achieved any great prominence in the town, and there is no clear evidence that their offspring remained there in the following century.
The second Sellwood family first appears in the Abingdon records when, some time about 1620, Robert (I) Sellwood (1607-44) came from Appleton to be apprenticed to the baker Richard Wise. In due course, he married his master’s daughter Katherine and continued in the baking trade. There were two sons, Richard (?-1683) and Robert (II) (1637-1722), and a daughter, Alice. The 1664 hearth tax records show Richard Sellwood, who continued his father’s bakery business, living in St Nicolas’ parish, probably in Stert Street, and having three hearths, which shows a reasonable middle-class lifestyle. Richard and his wife Martha had three sons and three daughters. One of the sons, John, (?-1725) is noted as a clock and watchmaker; a number of Sellwoods had been clockmakers in London, although they were no longer active when John was at an age to be apprenticed. Another of Richard’s sons, Samuel, (?-1731/2) continued as a baker, and was buried in St Nicolas’. Richard and his family were religious dissenters, and were occasionally fined when this was illegal, but were obviously ready to conform to the extent needed to carry on their trades and have conventional burials.
Robert(I)’s other son, Robert (II), an apothecary, married into the élite Cheyney family, and, in spite of having been a presbyterian as late as 1673, became a governor of Christ’s Hospital in 1676. He was mayor four times between 1677 and 1702 and, elected again in 1720, had to be excused on account of his ‘great age and indisposition of body’. He will then have been 83 years old. His son John (c.1663-1715) was mayor three times between 1697 and 1707. Robert(II)’s daughter Elizabeth married a wealthy London brewer, William Hucks, who would use his Abingdon relationships to challenge the well-entrenched Simon Harcourt for the borough’s parliamentary seat and, in 1708, to replace him in it.
The third family was that headed by the lawyer Samuel Sellwood. He was born at Eaton in 1752, the son of Robert and Mary Sellwood née Mayow. By 1778, Samuel was a secondary burgess in Abingdon’s corporation. By 1780 he was town clerk, a function he would retain until his death 38 years later. He had a large legal practice, was also clerk to Christ’s Hospital, and acted in similar roles for numerous other institutions. He married Frances Kendall at St Helen’s in 1783. They had a big house on the north side of Ock Street; it had three living rooms and four bedrooms, with four more for servants. In 1801, they sold it and lived for the rest of their lives at Old Abbey House.
Samuel Sellwood was particularly active in political matters. He was advisor and agent for Abingdon’s patron and MP, Edward Loveden Loveden, and later for his near neighbour, George Knapp. He worked for the local volunteer militia that was set up in 1798 in fear of a French invasion, took the rank of Captain – unpaid and not subject to military discipline – and negotiated with the then MP, Thomas Theodosius Metcalfe, for a stand of colours – the set of ceremonial flags that defined a regiment. He worked closely with two local fellow-lawyers: Benjamin Morland, who seems to have been a distant cousin, and John Bowles, a predecessor as town clerk. When Bowles died, Samuel Sellwood became guardian of his young son Thomas. Thomas Bowles eventually married Sellwood’s daughter, Hester Sophia,and many of their descendants still live in the Abingdon area.
Samuel Sellwood died in 1818 and his wife in 1842. Both are buried in Appleton, as are two of their children who died young. A son, also Samuel, became a fellow of Magdalen College and died without issue. The Sellwoods are commemorated in Abingdon in the name of Sellwood Road.
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