Amongst Arthur George RIDOUT’s research notes was a transcription of an obituary which appeared in The Times (15 Apr 1881) following the death of Captain Cranstoun George Ridout of Baughurst House in Hampshire. The piece included this intriguing passage:
“He was the possessor of the Cumberland Medal of which only four were struck after the Battle of Culloden and which he inherited from his Father to whom it had been bequeathed as next of Kin by his Uncle Lieut. General Wren, Brother of Sir Christopher Wren, the Architect of St Pauls (London).”
Cranstoun George Ridout, the son of John Christopher Ridout and his wife Mary (née CURTIS), was born in ~1786, probably at Eltham in Kent. Like his father, Cranstoun chose a military career and lived a very long, and no doubt eventful, life – but what had caught my attention, of course, was the implied relationship between this branch of Ridouts and Sir Christopher WREN, arguably one of the most famous architects in English history. I went up to The National Archives and nosed around to see what I could find and was quite lucky, but I neglected to follow up the story until very recently when I was contacted by a member of the Wren family asking me if the story was true. I decided to ‘re-open the case.’
Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) was the only son of Christopher Wren (1589-1658) and his wife Mary (née COX) who survived to adulthood. He married twice and his wives (Faith COGHILL and Jane FITZWILLIAM) bore him two sons, Christopher (b. 1675) and William (b. 1679). The family is, understandably, well documented but there is certainly no mention of a Jordan Wren, which wasn’t a promising start; I’d expected that a relative of the famous Christopher Wren might have generated quite a few records of his own, especially having been a Lieutenant General of some distinction. One of the two online records (on Ancestry.co.uk) that I did find is that of Wren’s burial, on the 22nd January 1784 at Southwark Cathedral, or to give it its full name, the Cathedral and Collegiate Church of St Saviour and St Mary Overie. ‘The History and Antiquities of the Parochial Church of St Saviour Southwark…’ (published by Nightingale, 1818) gives details of Wren’s memorial; the lengthy epitaph supports a Ridout connection:
“Near this place are interred the Remains of Elizabeth Roberts, who died April 17th, 1747, aged 77. John Voice, who died August 3rd 1750, aged 70 years. Thomas Roberts, son of the aforementioned Elizabeth Roberts, who died February 9th, 1754, aged 59 years. Catherine Voice, wife of John Voice, and daughter of Elizabeth Roberts, who died March 9th, 1768, aged 64. Elizabeth Voice, who died May 10th, 1732, aged one year and four months; and John Voice, who died July 12th, 1747, aged 18: the children of the aforesaid John and Catherine Voice. Also of Lieutenant General Jordan Wren of his Majesty’s Forces, and Colonel of the 41st Regiment of Foot, who died January 11th, 1784, aged 87 years. In memory of whom this monument is erected by Christopher Ridout of Christchurch, Surrey, in the year 1789, as being the next of kin.”
Christopher Ridout was the uncle of John Christopher and therefore great uncle of Cranstoun George; he was born on the 10th March 1727 in Fleet Street, London to Theophilus Ridout and his wife Love, widow of John BARNES; he became a Royal Naval surgeon, later living and practising in Lavender Hill, Battersea and died in 1790. Below is the line of descent of these Ridout characters to save possible confusion:
To recap, Jordan Wren’s obituary suggests that Cranstoun George’s father (John Christopher) was Wren’s nephew. The epitaph inscribed on the monument in Southwark says only that Christopher Ridout was ‘next of kin’ and there are additional layers of confusion! In 1903, a letter was sent to Arthur George Ridout from ‘L.C.M. Mackay’ stating that Theophilus Ridout was Wren’s next of kin and that John (of Deptford) had married Wren’s daughter. In 1925, an Eleanor Black-Hawkins wrote, in a daily newspaper, that her great grandfather, John Christopher Ridout was Wren’s great nephew. As this last statement was at least written by an established Ridout descendant it seemed appropriate to use this as my starting hypothesis. However, before I launched into what I thought might be a simple genealogical investigation I examined a Chancery case that I’d copied at the TNA, but had not read. It seems that the notion that Ridouts were related to Wren at all was hotly contested by another claimant, Esther BOURCHIER; the resulting dispute had been reported in The Gentleman’s Magazine (1784, Vol 1 p.315/6):
“Some months since, Gen. Jordan Wren, possessed of considerable property, and, as supposed, intestate. Two persons started as relations, and entered separate caveats to prevent administration. Each party hath called on the other to prove their consanguinity. On the evening of the 20th March, an unknown person dropped a letter in the area of a gentleman’s house in Marlborough-str. containing the will of the late General, in which many legacies are left to hospitals, &c. One of the above contending parties is named residuary legatee, and the gentleman at whose house it was delivered, with three other very respectable characters are appointed executors. The will is executed by the General, in the presence of two witnesses, v.z. Edward Bayley and Samuel Stead, who notwithstanding every possible means hath been used, are not yet discovered. In the will it is, moreover, his express desire to be buried in the General’s Row in Westminster-Abbey, and he has bequeathed a particular sum for that purpose. Being interred in Surrey by one of the claimants, before the will appeared on its establishment, he must be removed to the appointed repository. It is remarkable, neither the drawer, or copyer, nor dropper, or any persons concerned in the will, have hitherto stepped forward. It therefore is conjectured (and seemingly with good foundation), that it was entrusted by the General, previous to his death, with some since disappointed persons.”
The response to the finding of this will was immediate: the offering of a £500 reward, roughly £75,00 in today’s money! A Chancery case against Esther Bourchier was brought by Christopher Ridout, said to be Wren’s cousin once removed, on the 17th February 1786. The parties each contested the other’s right to claim relatedness and produced in evidence a series of letters bearing different handwriting styles and stamped with different seals. It was, in the end, decided that Ridout had the authentic claim and that Bourchier was only known to the General as she was the widow of a fellow officer with whom he had served and that he occasionally sent her small sums of money and gifts as a gesture of goodwill. The reader is advised, if interested, to examine for themselves the collection at TNA (PROB 86/19/20). Interestingly, according to the evidence and findings, it seems that the ‘supplementary will’ of Jordan Wren housed at TNA (PROB 20/2851) is the alleged forgery.
Heartened by the conclusions of an 18th century court I decided to try and piece the family tree together. As I stated above, there are only two online records (at ancestry.co.uk) for Jordan Wren, one of which is his burial; the other is for a baptism:
A Jordan Wrenn was baptised son of John and Mary on the 19th January 1700/01 at St Mary’s church, Whitechapel. The father was said to be a Royal Naval Officer and the family lived at Goulston Square in the parish. Two other baptisms appear for the same couple: Mary (bp. 30 Dec 1698) and Katherine (bp. 15 Jan 1699/00), both of Goulston or Goldstone Square which, according to a Jack the Ripper wiki article, was a ‘former garden, halfway between Wentworth and Whitechapel Squares.’ As this was the only baptism that I could find of this name and at approximately the right date it was all that I had to go on, coupled with the rather ubiquitous and frustrating ‘John and Mary’ parents!
A variety of newspaper articles illustrated Wren’s progress through the military ranks. ‘The Secretaries of State: Letters & papers from the Secretary at War to the Secretaries of State’ (TNA: SP 41/5/156) dated 9th July 1720: Ensigns commissions to Nathaniel Green and Jordan Wren in Lord Hinchinbrooke’s Regiment upon the establishment in Ireland.”
Caledonian Mercury 16th May 1734: Jordan Wren to Lieutenant.
Caledonian Mercury 8th January 1756: Jordan Wren to be a Major to the Regiment of Foot on 1 Nov 1755.
Caledonian Mercury 13May 1758: Jordan Wren promoted from Major to Lt Col.
Derby Mercury: 5 Sep 1777: Jordan Wren promoted from Col. to Maj. Gen.
Having satisfied myself of a link between Wren and the Ridouts, it ‘only’ remained to find quite how they were related. If Christopher Ridout was supposedly a first cousin once removed of Jordan Wrenn and if, as all records show, Wren was unmarried and had no legitimate offspring then the only option was to find a cousin of Christopher’s mother, Love Ridout, formerly Barnes. The uncommon first name made it easy to find that John Barnes had married Love ROBERTS on the 23rd January 1704 at St Christopher Le Stocks, London and that Love Roberts was daughter of Christopher Roberts and his wife Elizabeth. Right away it became more than feasible that this Elizabeth Roberts could be one and the same woman named on the memorial which included Jordan Wren and was paid for by Christopher Ridout. Next came the first breakthrough: Christopher Roberts married Elizabeth JORDAN on the 19th August 1687 at St James’ church, Duke’s Place! Surely, Elizabeth’s surname could not be a coincidence? Here is the tree:
So now I had to find a female sibling of Elizabeth Jordan and prove that her child was Jordan Wren and I knew that, if the baptism that I had found was correct, this lady’s name was Mary Jordan. I searched the database to which I had paid access and finally reached breakthrough number two… the big one…
John Wrenn and Mary Jorden were married on the 8th August 1695 at St Giles, Cripplegate, London. I am more than satisfied that these are Jordan’s parents, the father even retaining the ‘double en’ of the surname as found on Jordan’s baptism. I can’t prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Elizabeth and Mary were sisters but I would put a substantially hefty bet on it. It is almost certainly untrue that Jordan Wren was even related to Sir Christopher Wren but it is easy to say why family members might aspire to be connected to the great man. The final clincher was possibly the subject of much of the legal wrangling; besides Jordan’s accumulated wealth he had been awarded one of only four gold (officers only) so called Culloden medals for his part in the last battle on British soil, fought between the Jacobites and the Hanoverians on the 16th April 1746 at Culloden Moor. Wren apparently bequeathed it to Christopher Ridout’s son John Christopher, a fellow soldier… and in the family it is said to have stayed.