“Did you know” said my Nan, “my Dad always used to say that the Lovegrove’s were descended from French royalty. We’ve got blue blood running through our veins! The King of France got a maid pregnant and we descend from that baby…”
Many families have these sorts of ‘tall tales’ and whilst they may not be an accurate reflection of the past, they often contain little nuggets of truth. This was one such story.
This story is about how I discovered the lost voice of my ancestor Jane Lovegrove and unearthed the parentage of my illegitimate ancestor, William Augustus Descrespigny Lovegrove. It’s about unravelling a little nugget of truth wrapped up in a family legend. For ease of reference, I have abbreviated William’s full name to WAD.
Great Haseley is a beautiful village, full of thatched stone cottages. But, as quaint as the village appears, life would have been hard for the Lovegroves. In 1851, WAD‘s grandparents were both out of work – their occupations are given on the census as Pauper, formally Agricultural Labourer (abbrev. Ag Lab). Several of William and Martha’s daughters had left home and were employed as servants elsewhere.
There was little manufacturing industry in Oxfordshire and work inside the village was likely limited, forcing the girls to leave the area to find employment. The 1861 census reveals that as WAD reached his late teenage years he became employed as an Ag Lab. There were precious few other options, yet the occupation hardly provided security. It was often seasonal, unskilled and poorly paid. Of course, WAD would have to have been physically capable of doing the job, something that by 1861 his grandparents, William and Martha were perhaps not. In their 60s, the couple were recorded as “former” Ag Labs in the census of the same year.
WAD must have realised that his prospects in rural Great Haseley were limited. By 1865, aged around 22, he had left the picturesque scenery of Oxfordshire and moved to Brentford, Middlesex. It’s likely that he departed the countryside in the hope that urban living would provide reliable, better-paid work. At first, though, WAD seems to have continued working in some form of agriculture. At the time of his first marriage in 1865, he was working as a gardener.
With WAD’s humble roots I was surprised to see that on his marriage registration his father was recorded as William Decripney (sic), a Clerk. I’d already suspected WAD was illegitimate but his marriage certificate confirmed this. His surname was not the same as his father’s, although he was using it as his middle name. But where did this grand sounding name, “Decripney” come from? Googling the surname brought up no information. It seemed likely that “Decrigney” was spelt incorrectly. Luckily, I was in contact with a member of the Guild of One Named Studies whose focus was on the Lovegrove surname. They pointed me in the direction of the Champion De Crespigny family – a family of Barons with roots in France.
I eagerly relayed this information to my Nan (WAD’s great-granddaughter). She laughed and told me the tale her father had told her, that the Lovegrove’s descended from French royalty. This was very curious, but clearly I had a lot more digging to do to unearth the truth.
“Decripney’s” occupation, according to WAD’s marriage record, was “Clerk“. A Clerk could be an office clerk, or a clergyman. This certainly indicated someone of a higher social status than that of my Ag Lab, WAD Lovegrove, but not royalty! The Champion De Crespigny family does have French roots though. Was there really a connection?
If so, how did WAD’s mother meet this De Crespigny? And for that matter, which of William and Martha Lovegrove’s children was WAD’s mother? At that point, I had no idea.
A search of the 1841 census for each of William and Martha’s children, revealed that their daughter Jane Lovegrove, was a live in female servant for a Heaton Champion De Crespigny.
Surely Jane was WAD’s mother? I confirmed this by finding WAD’s baptism record (which doesn’t give a father’s name).
Was Heaton the father? Or was it one of his relatives, perhaps a visitor? I couldn’t be sure, Heaton was a Reverend, so the occupation Clerk fitted but WAD’s marriage record clearly stated his father’s name as William. A general search for a William De Crespigny, in either Oxfordshire or Kent left me further puzzled. No relevant finds. The only William I noticed was deceased long before the birth of WAD. Could Heaton, a man at least 25 years older than Jane, really be the father? I felt I needed further proof. My luck changed when Ancestry released their London collection. I realised that although I had ordered the marriage record of WAD and his first wife, Ann(e) Penton (my direct ancestor), I had never viewed the marriage of WAD and his second wife, Elizabeth Ann Kopp.
It was easy to search the London Marriage and Banns collection and find WAD’s second marriage. This time I discovered that WAD’s father had been named as “Eaton Decrespigny Champion Lovegrove”. Occupation was given as Goldminer!
Heaton could easily be misspelled as Eaton, especially if WAD only had a modicum of literacy – which seems likely (look at his signature!) I was confused by the occupation though – wasn’t Heaton a Reverend? Again, a look on Google soon revealed that by the time of WAD’s second marriage, Heaton had been de-frocked and emigrated to Australia – where he became a Goldminer! WAD’s second marriage record notes that Heaton was deceased, and this too turned out to be correct.
This last piece of information finally confirmed that Heaton was WAD’s father – short of DNA proof. The story of this illegitimate birth must have been important to the Lovegrove family. It passed down the generations, getting exaggerated and embellished along the way. I’ve since found many second-cousins, also descended from WAD. Each has heard a version of this story of “Blue Blood” and one or two even knew the name Decrespigny, although no one had any idea how it was spelt!
In the mid-Victorian period there was a stigma attached to illegitimacy, but perhaps the fact that someone wealthy and of a high social standing had fathered WAD gave him some sort of kudos? Whatever the case, WAD himself seems to have benefited little from this “blue blood”. After leaving Great Haseley, he spent the rest of his life in the Brentford area. He found steady, but back breaking, work as a Gas Stoker from 1871 to 1901. I’ve been unable to locate him in the 1911 census, but his death is registered in Brentford in 1919.
Jane Lovegrove disappears from the records. She is not with Heaton when he immigrates to Australia (dying a penniless goldminer). There is a burial in Oxfordshire for a Jane Lovegrove many decades later, but whether this is ‘my Jane’ or not…it’s difficult to be sure.
I often wonder at Jane’s decision to give WAD such a distinctive name. It feels to me like a silent protest, her only way of telling anyone about what had happened to her. Unable to vote, unable to find future work without a good reference, with pauper parents and only the workhouse system to fall back onto, Jane was in a perilous situation. Unmarried and pregnant she was incredibly vulnerable, and completely at the mercy of Heaton.
There are still further mysteries to be solved. Where is WAD’s birth certificate? Why was WAD baptised in Sandford, Kent? What happens to WAD’s mother Jane (I’ve lost track of her after 1847)? Who is the father of WAD’s brother, George?
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