‘John Ridout IV’ – a man of mystery

John Ridout IV is not an ‘Americanism’ but my nickname for my x4 great grandfather – yet another John Ridout! I know so little of this man and so this is an attempt to try and piece together what I do know and give him a bit of colour.

John was probably born in about 1753 and I have hypothesised that he might have been son of Christopher and Elizabeth and brother to William and Sarah. John, William and Sarah crop up a few times in Sherborne marriage registers, either as participants or witnesses; none of them ever signed their name but instead made their mark.

The notion of John and Susanna’s illiteracy has always niggled me, but not because I’m a snob – I am well aware that probably a high proportion of folk in mid-eighteenth century Britain was unable to write. Rather, I am concerned that so many of the Ridout family before and after John’s generation could write so why couldn’t he? I either have to silence my doubts and accept that the marriage of John Ridout and Susanna Shore in 1781 is the only Sherborne marriage appropriate to the subsequent baptisms of my x3 great grandfather and his siblings. Alternatively, I may have to look again for a different marriage between a literate John Ridout and Susanna Somebody.

Other than his marriage, his children’s baptisms and what are probably the burials of John and his wife in 1827 and 1817 respectively, my x4 great grandfather’s presence in Sherborne is possibly not much recorded. He is not in manorial records because presumably he did not live or work within Lord Digby’s estate. He was not in early trade directories perhaps because he either didn’t have a trade or was not wealthy enough to advertise the fact. Was he a poor man? Well, he didn’t appear in the parish records as having received alms, nor was he the subject of settlement or removal orders. I don’t think that John was poor, but principally because his sons had apprenticeships that the parish would have been unlikely to have provided, in my opinion. Both my x3 great grandfather John and his brother Samuel were cabinet makers. When John started his apprenticeship, in about 1800, the cost of this undertaking would have been about £25, a considerable sum for an impoverished father to pay.

When I know nothing about an individual, my approach is to find out what I know of the individual’s family and friends and make some educated guesses as to the individual himself. To this end, I have turned to the marriages of John’s sons. My x3 great grandfather John married twice. His first wife, in 1807, was Sarah Hodges but I know little of her family. However, one of the witnesses of their marriage was a lady called Mary Towers. Mary’s maiden name was Cottell (sometimes Cottle) and she was a member of a prominent Bath family. Her father George was a baker and biscuit maker who had a shop in Cross Bath Lane, near Stall Street. George’s sister Jane married Charles Milsom, son of Daniel – a schoolteacher and member of the corporation after whom the famous Milsom Street in Bath was named. Mary Cottell married William Towers in 1780 in Sherborne. In 1815, their daughter Mary would marry John Ridout’s younger brother Charles. So clearly the families had a long and close association.

The Towers family was involved with the Sherborne Mercury, of which William was the editor. This was a hugely influential newspaper, particularly as its news coverage and distribution went well beyond that of the boundaries of Dorset. It was first published by Robert Goadby (1721-1778), a printer and bookseller.  Joseph Towers, William’s brother, had been apprenticed to Goadby in 1753.  Both families were liberal and non-conformist.

John Ridout’s second wife was Martha Somerton, about whose family I have written previously. Martha’s brother and nephews were highly articulate, intelligent and educated men. It is reasonable to assume that Martha may have been from a similar mould. The Somerton family as a whole may have followed no particular religious path but I believe that Martha was a Methodist as her and John’s children were baptised in the Countess of Huntingdon’s Chapel in Bath.

So, John Ridout IV knew at least three or four middle class, educated and far from humdrum families into which his sons married. Is it therefore reasonable to think that John himself is likely to have been cut from similar cloth? In 1780 and 1782, the Sherborne Land Tax records show a ‘Mr John Ridout’ who owned a property in the Nethercombe parish of Sherborne, paying £1-11-0 in tax (at 4 shillings in the pound this would value his property at about £7-15-0). I have not as yet identified who this man is – perhaps he is John Ridout IV??

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