The Pratt Family


The first Pratt ancestor that we know about is Elizabeth, who lived in Wadhurst in 1730,she gave birth to a Son that she called Wickham Richard Pratt and she got a bastardy bond against a Richard Wickham of Wadhurst, who was the father. This was to ensure that she didn't claim money from the parish to support the child-the father could do that. The Wickhams seem to have been in Wadhurst back to at least 1618, but I haven't checked them out thoroughly, I don't know where Elizabeth Pratt came from. Her son dropped the Wickham and was the first Richard Pratt who farmed in Rotherfield. He married in 1756 Elizabeth daughter of Nathaniel and Elizabeth Wilmshurst, and they had 8 children. Elizabeth died in 1799 and Richard died in 1812 aged over 80. 


Their eldest child was the second Richard Pratt, born in 1757 he married Hannah Mitchel and they had 13 children. Hannah was the daughter of William Mitchel and Deborah Smith who married in Buxted in 1741. William was a warrener in Rotherfield parish, presumably in the area now known as Crowborough Warren, this was an area of land not good enough for farming and so was set aside to raise rabbits which were killed for their fur and their meat. William and Deborah had 8 children and when he died in 1784 he left a will, which was quite rare for those days, this left his wife an annuity of £8 a year, £5 to one of his daughters, £1 to all the rest (including Hannah), except one who was cut off with the proverbial shilling. The warren was left to his younger son John, his elder son William also only got £1. Hannah died in 1818 and the second Richard died in 1835 aged 78. Their eldest son was another Richard, who farmed at Great Trodgers in Rotherfield, but we are descended from the 4th. son James born in 1787. 


James Pratt farmed at a number of places in Rotherfield - Maynard's Gate, Stone House, Little Luxford Farm and Crowborough Cross. In 1810 he married Catherine Ashby. The Ashbys were a very large family who spread across the border into Kent and all used the same Christian names so I haven untangled them all by any means. Catherine's parents were John and Catherine Ashby, who were married in 1783, Catherine Known as Kitty, was born in Lamberhurst in 1767, and her father was another John Ashby. To add to the confusion her husband's father was yet another John Ashby, who was a farmer, originally from Waldron, but later of Rotherfield. He Left a will in which his granddaughter Catherine (who married James Pratt) received £10 as did all her sisters, their brothers received £25. each, so John Ashby Senior was obviously a wealthy man. John Ashby junior was baptised at Mayfield in 1756 and was a miller (a trade that seemed to run in the family), he ran Stone Mill in Rotherfield (a water mill) until his death in 1824, he also left a will in which he left the mill to his wife Kitty, who continued to run it with the help of different members of the family until she died in 1856 at the ripe old age of 88. It has been suggested that the later members of the Pratt family got into milling due to the Ashby connection. Curiously John divided the rest of his estate between all of his surviving children (they too had 13.) except for Catherine, who was married to James Pratt- I have no idea why she was left out.


 James and Catherine had 11 children, of whom two are our ancestors - Richard born in 1816 and Phoebe born in 1828 and they are both very interesting characters, Richard helped his grandmother, Kitty Ashby, at Stone Mill as a young man. In 1841 he married Hannah Callow, also born in 1816 in Rotherfield and they had 8 children. In 1851 he was a grocer in Rotherfield, in 1861 he set to and built a new mill in Crowborough, known as Pratt's Mill. The following year his eldest son, Jesse, was killed in an accident at the mill when his clothing got caught in the machinery, he was 18. See page on Pratt's Mill


It was Richard who changed the family religion from C. of E. to Baptist, he was a well known preacher all over Sussex and wrote a book, The Wilderness Journey, (very dull by all accounts), about his spiritual problems. He preached at Forest Fold Chapel in Crowborough where a number of the family are buried and in other chapels in the area. It is rumoured that he fell out with his co-religionists through and in about 1878 he left the Crowborough area and moved to Mount Farm, Ringmer, accompanied by his youngest surviving son, another Richard. His eldest surviving son, Samuel, carried on with the mill in Crowborough. Richard seems to have been involved with a lot of property transactions in his time and probably did rather well out of them. It probably helped that half the occupants of Crowborough were related to him in one way or another. In 1890 the younger Richard Pratt moved to Bentley Farm and moved his parents in with him, Hannah died the following year and Richard senior in 1895.They are both buried at Forest Fold back in Crowborough.


Pheobe Pratt must have been quite a girl, in 1847 she had an illegitimate daughter called Emily, and in 1849 an illegitimate son called Mark, both these children were later brought up by her parents James and Catherine. In 1852, aged 24 Pheobe married Benjamin Hendley, who was only 18. He was the son of Mark Hendley, another miller, who came from Mayfield and later lived in Lewes. On December 31st 1853 their daughter Ann was born, it seems likely that she was Pheobe's only legitimate child. In February 1856 Benjamin who had been serving in the West Kent Militia, joined the Royal Marines and went away to Portsmouth, as far as we know he never came back to his family. Pheobe doesn't seem to have been too bothered by his desertion, within a year she was living with Benjamin's older brother(but still younger than her), Peter by whom she had another 11 children the youngest in 1877,when she was nearly 49! No one knows why Benjamin upped and left but the fault does seem to have been on his side as far as the Pratts were concerned. Pheobe's father James, who died in 1865, left the land and cottage where Pheobe and Peter were living to her absolutely "so that her husband shall not have anything to do with it whatsoever". James also left money to Pheobes two illegitimate children that he had brought up and £10 to her daughter Ann, was this to compensate her for being the daughter of a rotter? Richard and Pheobe were the Executors and Peter was a witness to the will so it was obvious that all the family were on her side, Richard's religious convictions did not cause him to cast her off. Catherine Pratt (nee Ashby) died in 1871 and they are buried in Roherfield.


Peter and Phoebe continued to live in Crowborough, of their 11 children (all of whom were registered at birth as being Benjamin's children) only one was a boy, George. At his marriage it was said that Peter was his father after all (this probably happened with all these children) George's great grandson-another George Hendley is a Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London. Apparently, your grandmother told me, Pheobe really ruled the roost in that household and kept poor Peter firmly under her thumb. When she died in December 1913, he didn't know how to carry on without her and died 2 months later, they finally got married in November 1881,so they must have had some news of Benjamin from some source. They are both buried at Forest Fold Crowborough with a number of their daughters.


Benjamin seems to have had an exemplary career in the Royal Marines, rising to the rank of Sergeant and earning 4 Good Conduct Badges, he was in the Artillery branch, which was separate in those days. Between June 1856 and February 1862 he was serving on board H.M.S.Caesar in the West Indies and in the Mediterranean. From December 1863 to January 1868 he was serving on board the H.M.S. Salamander, which spent most of that time in Australia, travelling via South Africa. I can let you have more details of those journeys if you want them, George Hendley has read all the captain's logs of the voyages. Benjamin left the Royal Marines in August 1876, by which time he had "married" a lady called Martha Eades, who was the widow of a colleague of his. He had 3 children by her and they ran a pub in the centre of Portsmouth until Benjamin died in October 1880. Martha married yet again and disappears from the scene, but I am in touch with one of his descendants who had been unable to trace back beyond Benjamin and knew nothing of his colourful past in Sussex.


The youngest Richard Pratt was born in Rotherfield in 1853 and married his cousin Ann Hendley in February 1872 at Uckfield Register Office, they had 13 children and 51 grandchildren as you know. As stated earlier he farmed at the Mount, in Ringmer for about 12 years until he went to Bentley in 1890, originally this was rented but he bought the freehold in about 1920. Ann died in 1921 after 49 years of marriage and Richard looked around him for a replacement. He is alleged to have proposed to her half sister Kate Hendley, but she was a confirmed spinster and turned him down. He later married Elizabeth Banks, sister of his daughter-in-law Mary Banks (wife of his son Peter), who was considerably younger than he was and lived until 1961 (wedding photo on Extended family page). Richard sold Bentley in 1928, having set up all of his sons in business on their own account he moved back to Crowborough, where he died in 1930. He did very well for himself and left £10,000, to be divided between his children, mostly in the form of cottages, rumour has it that the sons had the best cottages!. He also left all his surviving children £10 each to buy mourning clothes for him. Richard and Ann are buried at Framfield, together with 3 of their sons. His widow is at Forest Fold where most of the Peter Pratts are also buried.


This history above was written by Rosie Ansell in January 1998


There are photos of some of the people mentioned here on various pages of this site.


The History below was written by Rosie's father Bert Ansell in about 1997


The Pratt family was rather different.  My grandfather Richard Pratt was the son of Richard Pratt of Pratt’s Mill, Crowborough.  The elder Richard, who was a well known preacher in the Strict Baptist faith, had quite a large family.  My grandfather was born on 5th June 1853, and in February 1872 married his cousin Ann Hendley, who was born on 31st December 1853.  Her mother, Phoebe Hendley, was born Phoebe Pratt, the sister of the elder Richard.


Richard the younger worked in his early days with his father at the Mill and at contracting for haulage.  In about 1877 Richard set up as a farmer at the Lower Mount, Ringmer, between Harvey’s Lane and The Broyle.  At the same time his parents moved to Upper Mount Farm on Harvey’s Lane.  In about 1883 Richard moved to the Upper Mount with his father, who presumably wanted to retire from farming, where he farmed for several years before moving to Bentley Farm, Halland in the autumn of 1890.  Richard’s parents moved with them and lived at Bentley until they died - Hannah in 1891, at the age of 74, and Richard senior in 1895 at the age of 78.  Richard and Ann had 13 children: it was said in the family that 3 were born at Crowborough, 3 at the Lower Mount, 3 at the Upper Mount and 4 at Bentley.


My grandmother died in April 1921 soon after she and Richard had celebrated their 49th wedding anniversary.  In 1923 my grandfather remarried, his second wife being Elizabeth Banks, who was much younger than he, and was in fact the sister of his son Peter’s wife.  All the Pratt grandchildren (and my grandfather had 51 of them) called her Aunt Lizzie, though she was strictly only the aunt of Uncle Peter’s children.




The eldest daughter, Mercy (1872-1945), married a cousin, Samuel Wickens, who had worked for our grandfather.  He eventually farmed at the Mount which had at one time been where our grandfather had farmed.  They had one son, James, and five daughters.  We used to see them from time to time but never seemed to know them very well.  I think Uncle Sam didn’t do too well, for times were difficult in the 1920’s in the farming world, and eventually they moved away to East Hoathly, and later to Hampden Park near Eastbourne, after which we hardly ever saw them.


The eldest son was James Pratt (1874-1960), who married Jane Brooker and had seven children: Bessie, Eunice, Eric, David, George, Eva and Amy.  From 1904 until his death at the age of 85 James farmed at Hammonds Green Farm, Framfield, which is still in the family: two of his grandsons now farm there.


Jesse Pratt, the next in line (1876-1960), was apprenticed to a miller, but did various jobs and moved around a bit, eventually running a haulage business from Bentley.  This included transporting the milk from the farm to Brighton dairy.  He married Ethel Markwick and had a family of seven: Richard (Dick), Stanley, Leslie, Elsie, Reg, Wilfred and Tom.  In my earliest memories they lived at Pump House on the farm.  The last three were round about the age of George and myself and when we arrived for holidays they usually appeared for what seems like the first day to play with us, but they didn’t keep it up.


In 1921 my grandfather, who had been a tenant of Lord Gage of Firle, bought the farm.  His lordship had inherited the estate as a boy of 16 on his father’s death in 1912.  In 1921 he had to find portions for his sisters and had to sell some outlying properties to find the money.  My grandfather then built two extra cottages, known as Peace Cottages, and Uncle Jesse and his family moved into one of these.  They left there a short time before Grandad retired and went to live in Hove, where most of them are still settled.  We didn’t see anything more of them, except that my mother used to visit them occasionally.  We have met Stanley more recently at family gatherings, but Leslie and Tom died some years ago.


Uncle George (1878-1956) was apprenticed to a grocer at Penge in Kent, and later worked in Newhaven.  In my young days he had the general shop in the village of Isfield, about two and a half miles from Bentley, which he ran for 44 years.  As well as the grocery business he also carried on a butcher’s business and coal merchants from the station in Isfield.  He was married to Kate Brinkhurst, a charming lady who always seemed to me to be the height of elegance.  They had three daughters: Joyce, who worked in the shop; Nora, who worked in the house, and Chrissie, who is my age.  When Norah married Chris succeeded her in the house; later Norah and her husband carried on the shop in Isfield for a further 16 years.


Uncle Peter (1880-1972) kept to farming; he did make an excursion to Canada in his young days, but didn’t settle.  He married Mary (Polly) Banks and farmed at Broadhurst, Horsted Keynes at first, and later at Hendall farm near Groombridge - still active and working on a tractor until just before he died at 91 years of age.  Aunt Polly was badly crippled with arthritis and died fairly young.  They also had a family of 7: Lily, George, who died of appendicitis at 19, Kate, Peter, Joe, Fred and Grace.  Kate spent a long time in Hellingly Mental Institution but was eventually released and lived a more or less normal life at home - she never married.  Grace was a Down’s Syndrome child but lived until she was about 60 - unmarried of course.  As small children we didn’t see them, but in later years we got to know them; Joe was the same age as my brother George and Fred was a bit younger than me.


Annie Edith, the only member of the family not to survive childhood, was born at Ringmer in 1882, and died of pneumonia early in 1885 at the age of only two and a half.


Mabel (1884-1961); my mother.


Uncle Ebenezer (Eb) (1887-1961) farmed at Pellings Place, Framfield for all his married life. He married Edith Starnes and they had 5 children: Lily, Nellie, Dennis, John and Eric.  Dennis was somewhat handicapped mentally and eventually went blind.  John was employed at a radar station near East Hoathly from quite a young age and remained there all his working life.  Eric unfortunately died of leukaemia at the age of 32.


Aunt (Ruth) Annie (1889-1965) married Albert Starnes, the brother of Eb’s wife.  They farmed firstly at Lower Brook House, Framfield, then at Upper Brook House, when they had the land for both farms, and finally at Crockstead, in Framfield Parish, but in Halland postal area.  They had a family of 8: Charles Albert (Bert), Jane, James, Ruth, Fred, Philip, and finally twins, Tom and Peter.  Peter was unfortunately killed in a motor cycle accident when he was about 20.  Bert was his father’s right hand and eventually took control of the farm.  Jim, after working on the farm for a while, went to work for an agricultural implement firm in Lewes.  Jane and Ruth helped in the house until they married.  Fred worked at Crockstead for some years and then went on to farm on his own account.  Philip stayed on at Crockstead until the family firm was wound down when Bert retired.  Tom did the same and then took some land and worked on his own.


Kate (Kit) (1891-1925) married Arch Thomas in 1920.  For a short time they lived at Bentley; Uncle Arch was a gardener at a big house at Waldron and he cycled there each day (about 5 or 6 miles). Eventually his employer found him a house at Grey Wood East Hoathly.  Kate and Arch had one son, Frank.  Unfortunately she died of cancer at the early age of 34.  Frank also became a gardener.


Joe (1894-1972) farmed at Little Marshfoot Farm, Hailsham.  He lived and worked at Bentley until early 1928, just before my grandfather retired, when he married Miriam Cornford.  They had one son, David, who died of leukaemia aged only 28.


Thomas Pratt (1896-1917) worked on the farm until called up for military service.  He was reported missing in May 1917.


Grace, the youngest (1900-92), was an aunt as soon as she was born, her eldest sister having already produced a child of her own.  She acted as housekeeper at Bentley after her mother’s death and before her father remarried.  In 1925 she married Alec Berry, who was a wheelwright and carpenter, and later a postman, living at White House and then Hendleigh in Halland.  They had two sons: Roy, who was apprenticed to a motor mechanic and eventually trained as a college lecturer in that field, and Brian, who runs his own business as a driving instructor in Uckfield.





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