Bank of England Will Extracts
The Bank of England, founded in 1694, was required to take an interest in wills by an Act of 1714 which said that no person could inherit any estate or interest in the public stocks or funds [i.e. loans to government in return for a fixed rate of interest or annuity], or receive any payment of an annuity derived from them, "until so much of any such Will as shall relate to such stock or annuity respectively shall be entered or registered in the office of the chief accountant ... of the Bank of England".
The bank managed the government's funded debt or "Gilt Edged Funds". For each type of stock issued it opened a Stock Register in which to record the stockholder's personal details, his or her current holding, and the dividends paid. These stockholders were generally called "fundholders".
Stock was usually irredeemable (i.e. not re-payable by the government) but over the years it could be changed by conversion to a different stock description, by consolidation ("Consols") or by having its interest rate or "coupon" lowered ("Reduced").
Stock could, of course, be bought and sold ("transferred") at an agreed price (the "consideration") between the seller and buyer or their attorneys or brokers. If, however, the holder died or became a bankrupt or a lunatic, the bank made an order according to the rules for that particular stock, acting on the evidence of documents which it examined, copied and then, usually, returned.
As a result of the 1714 Act, when stock was bequeathed or devised in trust or otherwise specially disposed of, the directors of the bank thought it their duty to be assured that all the conditions of the trusts were fulfilled. Books were, therefore, commenced in 1717 in which to register extracts from the documents that were brought in or sent to the bank and in which to record the action taken in each case.
The great majority of these documents were wills and administrations (extracts from some 60,000 survive between 1717 and 1845) but it should be emphasised that the extracts recorded by the bank relate only to those parts of the wills which bequeathed stock or, if stock was not explicitly mentioned, with the residue of the estate which was known to include stock. None of the other bequests and provisions made in the will were noted. A person may, of course, leave his stock to one person or several persons, perhaps depending on the amount held; there is an example in 1760 in which 30 legatees are named.
In the early days one register (or series of registers) was kept for each type of stock, but in 1807 the bank established a Register Office to look after all its registers and introduced a composite series of "multi stock" registers in which to record all transfers of stock. These survive from 1807 to 1845. In this period document copying was limited primarily to wills. The wills were brought in, the bank's lawyers marked those sections that specifically mentioned stock and the clerks then copied them into registers.
The bank solicitor or, after 1830, the Principal, then wrote his "opinion" against the extract, directing what was to happen: either that the stock was to be transferred to the named beneficiary, or placed at the disposal of the executors or their successors. Sometimes the stock was to be held by one party for a specified period, perhaps during the lifetime of a widow (a "subjection"), and then to be transferred or disposed of.
Form of Entries
From 1807 the entries follow a standard format. A docket number, without relevance to researchers, is found in the top left-hand corner of each entry. Beneath most docket number is a note "no J/A" or "no ja", meaning that there is no joint account. The central text gives details of the stockholder: surname, forename, address and occupation or rank. There then follows details of the stock or stocks held, showing their par or face vale, their description, their price and the market value at the date of the holder's death. The Stock Register Number is recorded in the margin against each stock. The total value of the deceased's personal estate, preceded by the words "sworn under", is also given in the margin.
Next comes information about the will itself, its date, the executors' names, and the court in which it was proved. Then follows the exact extract from the will that relates to stock, followed by the solicitor's or principal's signed opinion. Here the margin will note the implementation of the bequest or any change to the parties, such as the death of an executor or the coming of age of a legatee. Finally, the clerk wrote the register number (the number used for indexing purposes) in the bottom left-hand corner, the date of registration in the centre and his signature in the bottom right-hand corner, before ruling off the entry.
Entries relating to bankruptcy and lunacy contain less detail than those for bequests. The marginal notes may be the most valuable, particularly if they give details of trusts.
The earlier volumes have a number of interesting original documents tipped in. Although the last of these is dated 1821, they usually relate to events before 1760. Later such documents were examined, noted in the margin, and then returned.
There was for a long time some considerable doubt as to the value of this elaborate registering procedure. In 1805 the bank's solicitor expressed the opinion that it was only obliged to see that stock was transferred to its rightful owner or trustees. However, registration continued and when the Register Office was set up in 1807, it was arranged that a "professional person", Peter Hyett, should go to the bank daily from 11 to 3 o'clock "to read all the Wills sent in for registering, to mark such parts of them as require extracting, and to give them to the bank clerks for copying". The bank allowed 400 guineas a year to the bank solicitor for Mr Hyett's services and it also gave him an annual gratuity of £100. However, in 1829 the Law Suits Committee, looking for economies, expressed the view that Mr Hyett's services were "not materially useful". His appearances were "uncertain and irregular", he only came for three hours a day, and he used the rest of his time to practise as a solicitor on his own account. The Court of Directors agreed to dispense with his services, and his signature disappears from the registers in 1830. My Hyett had thought that his post was a permanent one and made repeated applications for an allowance. In 1835 he was given £100 a year. Later he was assisted in other ways and when he died in 1855 the directors gave his daughters £150.
Records after 1845
It being agreed that the process was "unnecessary and inconvenient" an Act was passed in August 1845 that removed the requirement to register specific bequests of stock, permitting their transfer after the names of the executors of administrators had been recorded. This considerably reduced the work of the office, but the resulting registers have been destroyed.
Two stray volumes for parts of the years 1853 and 1870 were, however, retained because they contain entries relating to the Duke of Wellington and to Charles Dickens. These show that a more simplified system, using printed-form registers, had been instituted to record all transfers of stock on the death of holders. Many of the entries, which do not mention wills, are not fully completed. The volume for 1853 frequently gives the date of burial of the deceased, more reliance being placed on a burial than on a death certificate.
The monetary value of many of the stockholdings was often quite low and so all social conditions are to be found, ranging from servants to the gentry they served. Investment in government funds was seen by many as an ideal vehicle for providing for their old age and as a safe repository for surplus earnings. A good proportion of the entries relate to spinsters and widows, and the number of servants who had annuities is high.
Every part of the British Isles and the colonies is represented, though many stockholders lived in London or the Home Counties. In the 18th century there was much investment in the funds by merchants from the Netherlands.
There is a sprinkling of Irish examples. Elizabeth Austin, of Cork, in 1817, for instance, had £1,200 in the funds. She had bequeathed half to two trustees for her daughter Langworthy, but as she had not mentioned the other £600 this was left at the disposal of her son and executor, the Revd. Robert Austin. One of the trustees, Conolly Coane, however, died in 1819. All this had to be explained and recorded.
Court of Probate
The great majority of the wills extracted by the bank were proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) though in the first half of the 18th century other courts occasionally appear.
In the very first register of the 5% Lottery 1717, the clerk John Harvey noted a possible problem, querying against the will of Anthony Hall of Durham, proved in the Bishop's Court of Durham, and the will of Marmaduke Pricket of York, proved in the Archbishop's Court of York, which came together in 1722 (No 1370), "Whether the Governor of the Bank may safely transfer the said Testators Stock to the Executor, the Will not having been proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury".
The legal opinion, given by Luke Thompson, was then carefully registered. He says, "I am of the opinion they may", adding that although probate in the Province of York did not enable an executor to bring actions for debt in the Province of Canterbury, "yet it is certain evidence of his being Executor", and that an executor without probate may do anything excepting only "the bringing of an action which require(s) the probat(e) to be set forth in the Declaration". Stock was the same as any other debt due to a testator and an executor could deal with it without having probate.
In 1812 the bank ruled that in future it would accept only grants of probate from the PCC. It had for some time tried to secure the principle that probate of stock could only be granted by the PCC on the grounds that shares had no defined locality. That idea was challenged in 1819 when the Court of Chancery ruled that probate of shares belonged to the court of the diocese in which the head office of the company was located. The Bank of England lay in the diocese of London and this meant that if there were little other personal property then the will could be proved in the Consistory Court of London. However, it would appear that the bank's stand remained firm.
In the extracts, probate is often recorded as having been "granted at Doctors Commons" which invariably refers to a grant in the PCC.
The surviving books, unfortunately, do not record all the bequests of stock that took place between 1717 and 1807. At least one major series of volumes, that for the 3% Consols issued in 1751, has been destroyed. This is known from the accidental survival of one volume running from August 1805 to November 1806 and covering surnames G-O, which was kept because it contains the entry relating to Lord Nelson. The first entry in that volume, obviously one of a long series, is numbered 16,005.
Surviving are 37 volumes for the period 1717-1807, 139 volumes for 1807-1845, and three stray volumes for 1805 (G-O), 1853 (P-Z) and 1870 (A-F). They were donated to the Society of Genealogists in 1985 and microfilmed by the Family History Library in 1989 [FHL, Title Catalog, Bank of England extracts from wills wherein there are special bequests of stock, 1726 (sic)-1845, 75 reels].
All the volumes from their commencement to 1813 have contemporary indexes of names arranged by the initial letter and first vowel of each surname, so that Smith is indexed under Si. A new consolidated index to the years 1807-1845, showing name, address, and occupation, was published by the Society of Genealogists as An Index to the Bank of England Will Extracts 1807-1845 (1991) [FHL 942 P2ai; not filmed]. A consolidated index to the period 1717-1807 was also compiled but not published. An index to the complete series, containing 60,523 entries, has since been made available on a fee-paying basis at http://www.origins.net/help/popup-aboutbo-boe2.htm.
The full texts of the wills extracted will, of course, be recorded in the usual places, generally in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. In the period 1796-1845 further details may also be found in the notes on the Estate Duty Office abstracts at The National Archives, Kew, in Class IR26, indexed in Class IR27.
If an extract is found in the Bank of England registers then the Bank will itself have the ledgers relating to the particular stock involved. If that stock was obtained by inheritance the record will show when and exactly from whom it was obtained. The subsequent history of a holding may throw light on a holder's later life or change of name by marriage. If a holder also held a customer account at the Bank of England, then details of this will also be found. Applications to see the records or for copies should be made in writing to the Archivist, The Bank of England, Threadneedle Street, London EC2R 8AH; Telephone +44 (0)20 7601 4810; Email firstname.lastname@example.org. See the Bank's website at http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/about/history/archive/.
For the bankrupts there will be additional information in The London Gazette and for the lunatics there may be material in the Commissions and Inquisitions of Lunacy at The National Archives, Kew, in Class C211.
Society of Genealogists, An Index to the Bank of England Will Extracts 1807-1845 (London, 1991) [FHL 942 P2ai; not filmed].
W.M. Acres, The Bank of England from within, 1694-1900 (2 vols. London, 1931) [not in FHL].
Sir John Clapham, The Bank of England: a history (2 vols. Cambridge University Press, 1945) [FHL 942 H2cL; not filmed].
J. Giuseppi, The Bank of England: a history from its foundation in 1694 (London, 1966) [not in FHL].
[Adapted from an article by Anthony Camp on 'Bank of England will extracts' in Family Tree Magazine (UK), vol. 16, no. 7 (May 2000), pages 21-22].