THE REVEREND ROBERT WILMOT
Robert Wilmot was inducted as Rector of Morleyon the 23rd December 1777 at the age of twenty-seven. His father, Richard Wilmot,'was a former Rector of Morley as well as a Canon of Windsor and Vicar of Mickleover, and his uncle Sir Edward Wilmot was physician to both George II and III. They were sons of Joyce Sacheverell who was a co-heiress of the Sacheverell estates and who married Robert Wilmot of Chaddesden. He was therefore well connected in the county and in a position to know something of the affairs of court.
During his incumbency at Morley, George III suffered increasingly from mental disorders that left England without firm leadership. Abroad the French Revolution followed the path of increasing violence which led to the long war between France and England.
Robert Wilmot makes his comments on these issues and with our knowledge of what was to happen it is impossible not of be impressed by his foresight. But in the main he gave his energies to the running of the parish, and it is due to him that we have such a vivid picture of the Morley of that time. Every parish record is full and accurately kept. There are the ordinary records of births, marriages and deaths – interspersed with Wilmot's own comments; there are minutes of Vestry meetings, the accounts of the Constable, the Overseer of the Poor and Overseer of the Highways; there is a census made by the Clerk of the parish and another fuller one ordered by the government; the only thing lacking is a good map that would have made it possible to place exactly the houses and farms of those people whom we come to know so well from the records.
Extracts from the Reverend Mr. Wilmot's comments in the Registers:
Weather is traditionally a subject that interests everyone in England, but it was not just interest but its vital importance in a village that depended almost com¬pletely on its farms that made Robert Wilmot write about it so often. A bad year could mean semi-starvation for the poor. For instance in 1783 corn was dear and the potato crop 'much used as a substitute for bread' was poor so that 'a scarcity and dearness with a bad quality obliged them (the poor) to reduce too much for health'.
Here is a full extract from 1799: —
'This year was in general very healthy, but from the Corn crops having been ill harvested, and the Wheat very soft and unsould I find Diarrhoea becoming very prevalent, and I much fear that there will shortly be much sickness. Till very late we had no Spring from the drought which prevailed, and the cold and frosty nights which continued till May there was but little vegetation; there was no grass for the cattle to be turned to till June, and a general distress prevailed for want of fodder. In Cheshire Hay was so scarce that a Guinea was given in some places for a Hundred weight.
In July the rain set in, and there was after that scarcely ever a dry day and straw could not be had at any price. Before the grass came in the Spring, they were so distressed for fodder for their cattle in the Hundred of Worral in Cheshire, that some of the farmers were under the necessity of giving their new calved cows their own milk as soon as drawn from them, in order to keep them alive. After the continued drought of some months the rain set in about the latter end of May, and from that time till the frost set in about Christmas we had never eight and forty hours together without wet - the Hay tho' not a bad crop was almost everywhere spoiled, the Corn crops in this part of England were drowned and starved - the consequence was a deficiency of grain when brought under the flail, and that unsound and bad, and which in consequence soon rose to the enormous price of One Guinea per strike, Winchester - Beans sixteen shillings, Oats eight shillings, Barley nine shillings. I speak this of the first quality, inferior samples somewhat lower. New Wheat was from twelve to fourteen and all other grain proportionately dear. Meat was very cheap, fat sheep could not be sold for more than 33/4d. The poor begin to suffer very much, and I fear before another Harvest there is no chance of things being better.'
In the eighteenth century the Industrial Revolution began, and for the first time factories and industrial towns were to be seen. Men like Robert Wilmot watched this development with horror and concern. The American Revolution and the French Revolution seemed to develop from the opposition to authority that was to be found amongst these factory workers, and they foresaw riot and revolution in England.
In 1795, writing of that Thomas Chambers the stockinger who earned thirty-five shillings Robert Wilmot observes... 'so ill do I think of manufacturers in general that if I wished to curse any people, I would introduce among them a manufactury, which would soon introduce every vice and depravity that human nature is capable of:- this is a shocking reflexion but experience evinces its truth, and whenever this Empire is overthrown it will be done by manufactures - for among them the great seditionists have found the true soil for the culture of their diabolical principles'.
The French Revolution
1789 the Revolution started as a movement to introduce parliamentary government, but extremists soon took over and mass executions, by the guillotine, led to a Reign of Terror. In England it was widely feared that the workers in the industrial towns might take up of 'Liberty, Fraternity, Equality' and bring about a similar revolution. It seems incredible that the quiet rural village of Morley should have produced a revolutionary but Robert records in 1793 …
By the exertions of the disaffected this part of the Kingdom is brought into a state of nearly bordering on rebellion, but the prudent measures taken by men of better minds, will it is hoped put a stop to the growing spirit of Republicanism - or rather Disorder. In my own parish I know but one man (whose name is Alsop*) that has, shewn the least wish to the present system of government - that man has endeavoured to instil into the minds of those with whom he is connected, principles of the most diabolical tendency, such as a total insubordination of all ranks and orders of men, and ideas of the justice of a perfect equality of property - hitherto his influence has had little effect, and I trust it will shortly be properly understood by those he would mislead'. He then continues 'Exclusive of this kind of political commotion my Parish is in a state of tranquillity'
(*Alsop has a descendant still living in Morley who has a copy of a will made by Alsop's mother-in-law which ensures that none of the money she left would get into Alsop's hands)
Robert Wilmot made long comments each year and they deal with a variety of subjects. In 1788 he noted the King's illness …
'King George III was seized with insanity and rendered incap¬able of transacting business... the secrecy which was observ¬ed about the court prevented its becoming public till neces¬sity compelled the Ministers to make it known'. And in the following year he welcomed the increasing tolerance in religion that made it possible for Roman Catholic countries to celebrate the King's recovery with the Te Deum. 'A circumstance that must surely be looked upon as a happy presage of the downfall of Bigotry and Superstition, and the establishment of a pure system of Religion throughout Europe'.
Perhaps it was just this hope for unity that made him so bitter against the Baptists who built a chapel in Smalley...
'With the exception of a few they have always been considered by me as the most worthless characters in my parish, and as I have never yet witnessed a change in their conduct to have been attendant on the change of their religious profession, I own I cannot divest myself of the opinion that their schism has more hypocrisy than religious zeal for its basis'.
Smallpox was endemic in England until well into the nineteenth century and there were always a number of deaths from this cause. While Robert Wilmot was Rector there was only one outbreak in Morley in 1779, and when we realise h little was known of the cause of the disease what he had to say was sound common sense...
'In the last year the smallpox went almost throughout the parish. In Morley thirty persons had it but only two died. In Smalley forty-three persons had it; twelve died that were buried there and a great number of children of the Methodists who had never been baptised were taken to Hallam to be buried.'
(There was a burial ground for reformists at Kirk Hallam)
'In Morley they were kept clean which I suppose was the reason that so few died. In Smalley the case was different, a proof that cleanliness is the best preservative in this distemper'.
1788 Robert Wilmot records ...
'5th November being the 100th anniversary of the Revolution it was celebrated throughout the Kingdom, and I believe there was scarcely a village which did not show tokens of rejoicing upon the occasion except the of Morley'.
Unfortunately no reason is given for this state of affairs. It may however be connected with an event occurred at the beginning' of the century when George Sacheverell was High Sheriff and invited the celebrated Dr. Henry Sacheverell, a kinsman and Rector of St. Andrew's Holborn, to Chaplain.
According to custom the Sheriff's Chaplain preached the Assize Sermon in All Saints before the King's Judge and the Mayor, and in it he attacked the 'glorious revolution', denounced dissenters and preached passive obedience to kings. This sermon caused throughout England an uproar which rose to a real storm when the doctor repeated the sermon before the Lord Mayor of in St. Paul's.
There is some doubt as to whether Dr. Henry Sacheverall was related to the Derbyshire family but it is said he was desirous of being thought a relation, and it appears some of the family were proud of the connection.
By 1801 however a more festive spirit prevailed …
'In the course of the year 1801 all the allies of Great Britain had withdrawn themselves from the war and submitted to the control of Republican France — the nation however was not dismayed by being left alone to the contests - on the contrary the National spirit seemed to rise as the difficulties and dangers increased … Upon the preliminaries being signed a general rejoicing took place, and cattle or sheep were roasted whole in almost every Township - in this Township two sheep were roasted, the one of them on the same wooden spit on which a sheep was roasted in the year 1760 on the conclusion of the German war'.
Robert Wilmot comes out clearly in his own writings as a just and sensitive man, deeply concerned for the people in his care, and loved an respected by them in return. He suffered increasingly from gout towards the latter part of his life, and some of his notes are written in unfamiliar but still quite legible left hand. He died in 1803 at the age of fifty-three and it is recorded that his funeral 'shewed an assembly of the whole parish with tears and sadness on every face'.
Among the documents in the parish chest are some lines 'occasioned by a walk near Morley church in the summer of 1812' written by Tho. Boden and an extract reads:-
'...And when releas'd from school, oft have I strayed
Down yonder path-way where the silver rill
Mourns as it murmurs, near yon verdant shade;
And tells its sorrows to the neighbouring hill.
Mourns for its once loved Wilmot, now no more -
His friendly hand, and cheering voice are fled;
That voice that charm's the rich and cheer's the poor,
Lies buried now among the silent dead.
Yet some fair remnants of his taste remain
As these sweet shades and spreading lawns can tell
And fragrant groves encircling yonder fane
That echoes with the death-bell's solemn knell...
He is buried in the churchyard beneath the shade of an old horse chestnut tree to the righ of the path leading to the vestry door with that of his wife Bridget who died in January 1829 aged seventy-nine - there is no record of a family. We record the epitaph before the inscription is obliterated by time.
If him thou knewst, good Friend who standest here
Pass gently on for he has laid thy fear,
But if in pensive ... thou art come
To muse upon the writing of the Tomb,
Here pause awhile and from an honoured name
Catch a pure spark to quicken in the flame.
For that which here returns to kindred …
Is Wilmot once the friend the faithful knew,
The rich who loved him mourn him dead,
The poor will bless him for the Poor he fed.
Cheer'd by his smile the infirm would rejoice,
And age forgot its sorrow at his voice.
Oh! What a lesson then our Wilmotts name
Stranger farewell, depart and do the same.
If Rich be like him in a generous mind,
If Poor be like him for thou mayst be kind.
So when the last dread Trump shall rend the skies,
Then like him thou mays't hope in Joy to rise.