For many years, George White of Ashley House kept a little notebook, 7 by 4 inches, in which he recorded the births, deaths and marriages of the people around him in Epsom. Hundreds of names were set down in small handwriting, creating a comprehensive record for the genealogy of the town.
'Lawyer White', as he was known in the town, had built up his knowledge of Epsom business from 1848, the year that an annex was built to Ashley House for his work as Registrar for the County Court. He went on to become clerk to the Vestry, the Local Board of Health, the Urban District Council, the School Attendance Committee, and the Burial Board, as well as churchwarden of St. Martin's, solicitor to the local branch of the London & County Bank and trustee for the Gas Company. He was also, through his second wife Jane Dorling, the brother-in-law of Isabella Beeton: so he was well positioned to know what was going on in the town. However, he was not Registrar for Births and Deaths, that post being held by a series of other people until from about 1875 it was occupied by his friend (and his wife's cousin) James Andrews.
The entries in the notebook are not strictly chronological or alphabetical, but the impression is that White began making them in the 1870s – on page E5 he says 'now (July 1879)' – and continued until his death in 1898. 'They had very strong feelings of respect and esteem for the late Mr. George White', said the Councillors after his funeral; 'he was one of those gentlemen who would carry out everything most thoroughly'. The main sources for the notebook seem to be registration of births and deaths, burial books, parish register entries, probate of wills, and estate papers, together with a certain amount of local knowledge. He copied some entries for the Wranghams from the old family prayerbook, and as a solicitor dealing with family papers, he was able to supply information on descents well into the eighteenth century. Sometimes White got a date wrong, and went back to correct it. Sometimes he added extra information between the lines. (We think that we have attributed these additions correctly, but there may be entries where we have added one to the row below when it should have been with the one above, or vice versa). Occasionally he made mistakes in copying other people's notes; he wrote 'Thurfield' for 'Shinfield' on page H6, 'Tapping' for 'Happing' on page S8, and, bizarrely, 'Lornhamah' for 'Louise Hannah' on page F1. We've corrected these errors but their existence suggests that others may still be present in the text.
Entrance to Ashley House Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum
There are notes on the customs of the manors of Ashtead, Carshalton and Epsom, which a solicitor needed to know as land continued to be held by copyhold in the late nineteenth century. On page E5 White jots down some local history memoranda – Kingston Lane used to be Water/ Ware Lane, the Spread Eagle was once the Black Spread Eagle – but otherwise the notebook was kept in a very dry style; he lists his own marriage in 1860 without a comment, although Samuel Bettison Holmes 'formerly my clerk' does get a personal recognition on his death in 1856. Occasionally you suspect that White may have known more than he lets on, as in the entry for John Benjamin Allen who 'married but had no children in wedlock'. Evidently there were other children that we aren't told about.
White began with the intention of numbering the pages of his notebook but does not seem to have carried this out. For cross-referencing against the original, we have added page references by letter and number, so that once you have found the first page for any letter, you can count forward to find the matching page in the transcript. Because the section for each letter began on a left-hand page, odd numbers are always left pages, and even numbers are right ones. There are two blank pages at the beginning of the book which means that White's 'page 8' is our 'page A6'. In the traditional manner, I goes with J and U with V; there are no entries for Q or Z.
The notebook was acquired by Bourne Hall Museum and is deposited at Surrey History Centre, SHC 6036/3/1. We have made a close but not an exact transcript. White was fond of using spiky little abbreviations such as 'exrs' for 'executors' and these have been expanded where there was a risk of ambiguity. His interlineations and second thoughts often led to multiple lines of small script less than 1/16 inch high, making the notebook into a continual challenge for the transcriber. It was ably met by Sheila Ross, who prepared a working copy which has also benefitted from the input of Hazel Ballan and others at the Local History Centre. We hope that now, a hundred years on, George White's notebook will be of value to a wider audience than he ever imagined.