Wills and Administrations


Notes on Types of Probate

Wills can be an important source of information about a particular person and also about their family relationships.  Sometimes the contents of a Will are very detailed, for example giving the name of the Testator’s daughter and that of the man whom she married; but at other times they can be very vague, for example “I leave the rest and residue of my estate to my beloved wife”.

If a person died with assets but without leaving a Will, it was, and still is, necessary for someone to apply to the appropriate authority for “Letters of Administration”.  An Administrator is appointed by the Court to establish the value and extent of the estate of the deceased person and to distribute it according to the rules laid down by the courts from time-to-time.  The procedures for finding an Administration are the same as for locating a Will.

Have you ever wondered why a Will begins with the words “I do hereby make this my last Will and Testament”?

It is because of the tradition that a “Will” relates to the disposition of real estate, such as land and buildings, which were usually bound by the customs of the manor where it was located.  This was in the days when all land was technically the property of the Crown.  In most of England, the law of primogeniture determined the disposal of the real estate i.e. it naturally devolved to the eldest male child of the deceased.  However, there were some manors, such as the Manor of Streatham in the parish of Henfield where the Woolgar’s lived, where the custom was for the real estate to be devolved to the youngest male child.

The “Testament” concerned personal estate such as furniture, clothing and crops.  These were regarded as a gift from God and the testator could bequeath them as and where he pleased.  Sometimes, he left money to his church to provide food for the poor or to pay priests to pray for his soul; but usually, the bulk of the personal estate was left to his widow and children.

Before 1858, all Wills were “Proved” in an Ecclesiastical Court.  In most cases the “Probate” was Granted in the archdeacon’s court that covered the area where the Testator lived.  However, if the deceased had estate in more than one archdeaconry jurisdiction, the Will had to be proved in one of the bishop’s courts, either the Consistory Court or the Commissary Court.  If an estate extended over more than one diocese, then it would be necessary for the Executors to apply for probate in one of the two Provincial Courts.  Broadly speaking, the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) covered most of southern England, whilst the north was in the jurisdiction of the Prerogative Court of York.  The PCC was the senior court and so also had jurisdiction where deceased had a part of his estate in both provinces or where the death occurred abroad.  Just to complicate matters further, there were some particular parishes where special rules applied and these are known as “Peculiar Courts” and they were exempt from diocesan control.  To find a Will before 1858, a researcher has to search the records of a particular ecclesiastical court and there are hundreds of them across the country, so the task is not a straightforward one, unless you have some idea where the deceased lived and when they died.

From 11th January, 1858, all Wills have been Proved in the civil courts.  Each year, a Calendar Book is produced by the Probate Registry in London showing, in strict alphabetical order, the brief details of each Will that was proved during the year.  As a minimum, the records show the name and last known address of the deceased; date of death, the date and Probate Registry where the Grant was made and the value of the estate.  In the earlier records, more information is provided e.g. the names of the Executors.  The existence of the Calendar Books does make it much easier for a researcher to locate a Will, but you do need to have some idea of when the person died to keep the search to a manageable timeframe.

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Pre-1858 Wills & Administrations Index

Over the years, I have been slowly compiling a list of Wills and Administrations which were Granted in the various ecclesiastical courts prior to 1858.  Sometimes, there are indexes published by family history societies which assist the search to some extent; but sometimes there are no indexes available and then the search is a long and tedious one.

I have compiled a table detailing the pre-1858 Wills and Administrations that I have discovered so far.  For each item listed, I have purchased a copy of the Will from the record repository concerned but these cannot be displayed here for copyright reasons.  In some cases, I have therefore compiled my own transcript of a Will and I will make a copy of this available to any Woolgar researcher who can properly claim the Testator on their own family tree.  Where a transcript exists, there is an entry “TRA” in the “Notes” column of the spreadsheet.  To view the table, please click here

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Individual Will & Administration Transcripts

However, there are some Wills which have a great relevance to many Woolgar researchers.  A list of those transcripts that are currently available on this web site appears below.  Just click on the name and they will appear as *.pdf files in a separate window:

Catherine WOOLGER (Chart MISC 267) She was born Catherine POWELL circa 1740.  She married Daniel WOOLGER, a Currier, on 13 April 1762 at Stoke-next-Guildford in Surrey.  Very little else is known about her, except that she had three known children between 1763 and 1773 and that she died at the age of 65 and was buried in the churchyard at Stoke on 21 May 1805.  However, she must have had assets in her own name, a comparative rarity for a woman at that time, because her husband had to apply for Letters of Administration after her death in order to collect and distribute her estate.

Daniel WOOLGAR (Chart MISC 267) Despite the different spelling of the surname, this is the husband of Catherine WOOLGER nee POWELL mentioned above.  Daniel was baptised on 25 November 1736 at West Horsley in Surrey, the son of John WOOLGAR and Mary CROUCHER.  He was the youngest known child of the couple and had at least four older siblings who were all girls.  Daniel was a Currier by trade, a person who purchased skins from the tannery and prepared them for use by shoemakers.  We know from a Poll Book that he was a “Freeholder of Stoke” by 1775; and in the Land Tax Assessment of 1799 for Stoke-next-Guildford, he is described as “Mr.” and he occupied messuages, tenements and gardens and was the owner of two more similar properties.  He was buried on 06 October 1818 aged 83 at Stoke-next-Guildford and left a detailed Will dividing his estate between his three children.

Elizabeth WOOLGAR (Chart 2) Elizabeth died in Bethlehem Hospital.  She was the daughter of Josias WOOLGAR (see entry below) and she died intestate on 10 May 1852 with an estate of £600, so her brother Richard obtained Letters of Administration to deal with her Estate.  Elizabeth is buried close to her parents and both headstones can be seen on the Steyning page. 

George WOOLGAR of Newhaven (Chart MISC 031) He was the son of Thomas WOOLGAR and his first wife, Jane (or Jenny) WOOD.  He was baptised at Tarring Neville on 08 Jan 1792 and died on 08 Nov 1851 aged 59.  He married Maria ADAMS on 30 Dec 1828 at Newhaven and the couple had no known children.  George and Maria are buried together at St. Michael and All Angels, Newhaven and a picture of their headstone appears on the Newhaven page. 

John WOOD of Blatchington.  Sometimes it is not possible to construct a family tree from looking at the events in the parish registers etc for that family alone.  This is particularly true when doing research in the 18th Century and earlier, when corroborative evidence from census returns is not available.  I encountered this problem when researching the Seaford Woolgar's and decided to do some collateral research in the families that they were associated with by marriage.  As a result,I came across the Will of  John WOOD of Blatchington.  This was the father of Mary WOOD who married Richard WOOLGAR of Seaford on 03 December 1700 at Tarring Neville.

John WOOLGAR of Tillington (Chart MISC 069) This man was born circa 1746 but no details of either his baptism or parentage have been found so far.  He married Mary POWELL on 01 May 1774 at Tillington and the couple had ten children between 1774 and 1792, two of whom died during their childhood years.  John was a Bricklayer and the family lived within the Manor of River, part of the Cowdray estate, that lies in the parish of Tillington.  John died at the age of 53 and was buried on 24 Oct 1799 at Tillington.  He was survived by his wife Mary, to whom he left his entire estate, and she appears to have continued to live at River until her death in 1823, aged 75 years.

Josias WOOLGER of Steyning (Chart 2/3) Josias was baptised at Henfield on 26 March 1773, the son of Josiah WOOLGAR and Rebecca BATMAN.  He married twice, firstly to Sarah SOUCH on 06 May 1806 at Henfield, but she died soon after the marriage and was buried there on 06 Jan 1807, leaving no known children.  Later that same year, on 19 Oct 1807, he married Barbara MARSHALL at Steyning by Licence and they had three children.  His second wife and all three children survived him and are mentioned in his Will.  Josias and Barbara are buried together at Steyning

Samuel WOOLGER of Henfield (Chart 1) This man was the great-grand-father of Stephen whose will is mentioned above.  Samuel was baptised at St. Peter, Henfield on 30 April 1643.  There is very little information available about this man, but he is believed to have married twice.  Firstly to Grace (surname unknown) who was buried on 07 March 1679 at Henfield and later to Mary (possibly the daughter of Ann DILLY); however, the details of these marriages have not yet been found despite many years of searching.  This Samuel WOOLGAR appears to have been of some importance in Henfield; he was a Yeoman and also a Churchwarden.

Stephen WOOLGAR of Bramber (Chart 1) This is the common ancestor of the majority of the Woolgar researchers who contact me and you can see his home and his headstone on the Bramber page.  When he died in 1821, he left a very detailed Will which provides corroborative evidence for the information concerning his wife and sons obtained from parish register entries in both Henfield and Bramber. 

Stephen WOOLGER of Godstone (Chart MISC 218)  For many years, I have been searching for a link between the Woolgar families of Sussex and Surrey and this has proved to be very elusive.  Then in 1999, I discovered this Will in the records of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury.  In addition to mentioning a farm called Gatehouse in the parish of Godstone in Surrey, the Will also mentions Copyhold land held in the Manor of Streatham in Henfield i.e. in the very heartland of the Sussex Woolgar families.  More research into the ancestors of this Stephen Woolger will be required before a firm link can be made, but at least a clue may have been found to the origins of the Surrey Woolgar's.

Thomas WOOLGAR of Henfield (Chart 1)  This Will was made just at the end of the reign of Mary Tudor and her husband King Philip of Spain.  This was long before English spelling had been standardised and this is abundantly evident in this particular Will.  In fact, it almost has to be read out aloud to be understood.  Thomas is believed to have been the son of John WOOLGAR of Pokerlee in Henfield and his wife Joanne.  He died before the advent of parish registers, so there are no details available concerning his birth, marriage or death; but from the details given in his Will, it seems that he married Margaret SMYTHE, a widow with a daughter Agnes by her previous husband, and that the couple had three children named John, Thomas and Joan.  There is some difficulty with the dates upon which this Will was made and Proved.  According to the Will, it was made on 10 March 1557, which by our modern calendar should be 1558, but it was Proved on the 8 June 1557, both the ancient and modern year date.  Now, a Will cannot be proved before it is written, so either the scribe who wrote the Will or the legal clerk who recorded the Probate must have made an error with the year date.

Thomas WOOLGAR of Heighton (Chart MISC 030) This man comes from the line of Seaford Woolgar's.  He was baptised at Seaford on 25 May 1753 and he married firstly Jane (or Jenny) WOOD in 1779 and secondly to a widow Lucy SMART in 1807.  He had eight sons by his first marriage and 5 sons and 3 daughters by his second wife, some of whom were born before their marriage.  Interestingly, only the sons of his first marriage are named in his Will.  There is also an important and longstanding connection between this Woolgar family and the ALLWORK family of the area and this is in evidence in this Will where a Thomas ALLWORK is named as one of the Executors.

William WOOLGER of Henfield (Chart 1)  For many years, the Family Tree of the Henfield Woolgar's began with the marriage of William WOOLGAR to Mary Page at Ringmer in 1621/2.  It was only in 1996 that Bob Hyslop and I were able to pool our knowledge on the family and together we pushed the Family Tree back another three generations to circa 1558.  This William Woolgar will therefore be known to many Woolgar researchers and we are now able to display a transcript of the Letters of Administration relating to his Estate.  This is dated 1650, was Granted in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury and is written entirely in Latin, however a suggested translation is also provided.  This man could perhaps have been expected to have left a Will and the fact that he died intestate may be indicative of the fact that he died unexpectedly and before he could put his affairs in order.

William WOOLGAR of Bramber (Chart 5) William was the second son of Stephen WOOLGAR and Hannah EVANS.  He was baptised at Henfield on 18 Nov 1764 and he died on 12 Mar 1843 and his headstone can still be seen in Bramber churchyard.  He married Elizabeth TRANGMAR at Upper Beeding on 08 Jul 1787 and the couple are believed to have lived at Old Cottage in Bramber where they raised ten children, three of whom died during their childhood years.  The seven surviving children are all mentioned by name in his Will.  Also mentioned are two freehold houses in Cavendish Place, Brighton - a very prestigious address even today.  There is a pictures of Old Cottage and , William and Elizabeth's headstone on the Bramber page; and Cavendish Place on the Brighton page. 


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Last updated 20 August 2007
© Marion Woolgar