Sewells of Hitcham, Suffolk – Part 1

By Gabrielle Stevens

This article was published in the December 2016 edition of Soul Search, the Journal of The Sole Society

I thought I would start this article by giving some background information on the village of Hitcham, so as to give some context to the life and times of the Sewell family, which my research suggests dates back to the early 1700s at least. So far I have been unable to get any further back than that, but it would seem reasonable to assume that the family origin in the area of Hitcham is rather older.
Hitcham is a small village in the English county of Suffolk, one of the counties that comprise East Anglia, and is both a village and parish. It is included in the Domesday Book as Hecham, and likely takes its name from the Old English meaning ‘homestead with a hedge or hatch-gate’. There is a good description of the village in the various editions of Kelly’s Directories, with the 1888 edition giving the following:
Hitcham is a parish and village 6 miles east-by-north from Lavenham station, 7 north from Hadleigh and 7 south-west from Stowmarket, in the Southern division of the County, Cosford hundred and union, Hadleigh petty sessional division and county court district, rural deanery of Lavenham and archdeaconry of Sudbury and diocese of Ely. The church of All Saints is a large and handsome structure of flint with stone dressings, in the later English style, consisting of chancel, nave, aisles and south porch, with a western embattled tower containing six bells: the roof is beautifully carved: the interior was restored and beautified in 1878, and there are about 500 sittings. The living is a rectory, average tithe rent-charge £1,159, net yearly value £858, including 30 acres of glebe and residence, in the gift of the Crown, and held since 1861 by the Rev. Alexander Ronald Grant M.A. late fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. The Baptists have a chapel here. The yearly value of the charities is £73. The trustees of the late Richard Newman esq. are lords of the manor. The principal landowners are T. B. Beale esq. the trustees of the late Robert Ennals esq. John Long esq. John N. Forster esq. the Rev. Charles Russell Cooke B. A. of Semer rectory. The soil is clayey; subsoil, clay and gravel. The chief crops are wheat, barley and turnips. The area is 4,177 acres; rateable value £4,997; the population in 1881 was 897.
Parish Clerk & Sexton, Harry Charles Sewell.
POST OFFICE – Mrs. John Sewell, receiver
The directory also gives details of commercial activities in Hitcham and lists the following trades and occupations:

Builder & Bricklayer2
Grocer & drapers3
Miller & bakers3
Farm bailiffs2

The thatcher was Harry Charles Sewell.
There was also at that time a school, indicated as able to teach 150 children with an average attendance of 140.
Thus Hitcham during the 19th Century was very much an agricultural society, in keeping with East Anglia generally. So family occupations are likely to be based around farming and such work as is needed to support village life generally, and this is borne out by information contained within the census data regarding my Sewell ancestors.
My Sewell roots are on my mother’s side of the family, and can be traced back to my 5x great grandparents Edward Sewell and Sarah Balsham. Edward was born in about 1732, and Sarah in 1736. I do not know for certain where Edward was born, but Sarah was born in the small village of Combs, which is about 5 miles from Hitcham. They married on 19 August 1759 in Combs and had three children – John, Sarah and James. All three were born in Hitcham, in 1760, 1763 and 1765 respectively. James only lived for 2 years, and I have no further information on Sarah. According to Hitcham parish records, John married Hannah Laflin on 27 February 1786 in Hitcham, and they are my 4x great grandparents. John is listed in the 1841 census still in Hitcham aged 80 a thatcher by trade. However there is no mention of Hannah at that date. The Hitcham parish baptism records list 9 children born in Hitcham to John and Hannah between 1787 and 1800, one of whom is Edward Sewell (1795) – my 3x great grandfather.
As a side project, I have spent some time looking for details of Hannah Laflin within the various parish records, and also within trees held on Ancestry. This research has failed to find any trace of her death and burial, but has indicated how easy it is to pick up incorrect information from others. There is clear confusion between Hannah and her sister Mary in some trees and evidence of simple copying of one incorrect tree data from another. So researchers must be very careful when accepting information to check its origins from prime data sources, although I accept this may not always be possible!
Returning to Edward, he married Mary Ennals in 1824 at Hitcham. Mary also came from Hitcham, having been born there in 1797 and she is related to a prosperous Hitcham farming family of that name. The couple had a total of 9 children, all born in Hitcham. We are now entering the period when annual censuses began, the first being in 1841, and also when formal recording of births, deaths and marriages began. As a consequence it becomes much easier to discover and verify information about ancestors.
Edward and Mary lived in Hitcham all their lives, Edward until 1883 aged 88 and Mary until 1873 aged 76. They are buried in the graveyard of Hitcham All Saints alongside several other Sewells. Edward was a thatcher by trade, like his father John before him. Their children are shown in the table below.

 BornDiedAge at death
Mary Ann1840191171
Children of Edward and Mary Sewell

Tragically despite the long lives of their parents, 5 of the 9 children died before their parents. This I feel reflects the reality of life in a poor village environment, as by now Hitcham was in a state of some decline. To quote from the Hitcham History section of the Hitcham Jubilee Website:
The long years from the end of the 17th to the early 19th century seem to have been marked by a slow descent into impoverishment. Few improvements were made to houses, virtually no new and lasting building took place and nothing was done to the church. Indeed, in the 1840s Hitcham was described as being one of the most poverty stricken parishes in pauperised Suffolk. This could have been largely due to the system of land ownership prevailing in Hitcham. Farms to the west of the parish were part of the estate of the Wenyeve family at Brettenham Park, noted for having no money, and most of the rest of Hitcham’s farms were owned by absentee landlords who collected rents without carrying out improvements.
The 1841 census shows the family living together in one dwelling in Hitcham. There are the 6 surviving children (Harriet not yet born), with Edward shown as a thatcher. No occupations are shown for the others, even though at 16 Robert is unlikely to have been a scholar.
By 1851 the census shows that the family has reduced in size slightly. Edward and Mary are still together, Harriet has been added, and Robert has left. Both Edward and John are shown as thatchers. Interestingly the census transcription shows the Sewell surname as Jewell – so researchers need to be aware that problems will occur in searching for ancestors when the transcribers can’t decipher the enumerator’s handwriting!
Robert moved to the village of Bramford, near to Ipswich, about 10 miles from Hitcham. He is shown as lodging with the Bagley family as a journeyman miller (Thomas Bagley is shown as a journeyman blacksmith). In 1861 he is still in Bramford, married (1852) to Hannah Bagley, who came from Bramford and is probably a relation to Thomas, has 6 children, and his occupation is given as a miller. In addition an Edward Sewell age 26 is shown as a visitor – he is as yet unidentified. In the census and hence the transcript his birthplace is given as Hichem not Hitcham! Following through the census years, in 1871 Robert and Hannah had moved to Barking in Essex, where he continued his trade as a miller. Three children are shown as living there. In 1881 he and Hannah are still in Barking with one child, living at a different address, with Robert still a miller. In 1891 Robert and Hannah have moved again, this time to Mitcham in Surrey and Robert is now retired. In 1901 Robert only is shown as a widower and a boarder in Mitcham. At his death in 1903 his will admitted to probate indicates a sum of £138 13s 1d (£15,252 at current prices) left to Henry Sewell a draughtsman, Elizabeth Sarah Brown and Eleanor Marchant who are a son and two daughters. There are two small bequests to two other daughters. I have started researching Robert and Hannah’s children to see what happened to them, as it would appear that not all of them moved with their parents to Barking.
I will look at second son John in the third part of this article.
William Sewell by 1851 had left home and is shown as living fairly close by with the Barnes family, and training to be a miller. Sadly he died in 1859 (from phthisis, now known as tuberculosis) and is buried at Hitcham All Saints.
Elizabeth Sewell in 1851 was still at home aged 16. In 1861 she is shown as a servant living with a branch of the Ennals family on a farm in Hitcham. Like her brother William, she died at a young age (from ‘disease of lungs’ according to the death certificate) and is buried at Hitcham All Saints.
Henry Sewell in 1851 was at home aged 13. In 1861 he is shown as a miller, still living at home with his parents. Again, he dies young (again from phthisis) and is buried at Hitcham All Saints.
Mary Ann and Harriet fared somewhat better. Mary Ann in 1851 was at home aged 11. Then in 1861 she was a servant for the Reverend Edge in the parish of Nedging not far from Hitcham. By 1871 she had moved to Chelsworth to a position as parlour maid for a Miss Pocklington in Chelsworth, again not far away. In 1881 she is recorded as still a parlour maid at the Old Manor House in Chelsworth, a position she retained in 1891 and 1901. The head of that household was Colonel Frederic Pocklington of the British Army. Finally in 1911 she is shown as living as a woman of private means in Monks Eleigh, presumably in retirement. She never married, and died that same year. She too is buried at Hitcham All Saints.

All Saints, Hitcham. Photo reproduced by kind permission from Simon Knott,

Part 2 of the Sewells of Hitcham will look at the life of Harriet Sewell in some detail along with the impact on the village of the rector Professor Henlow.  Part 3 will conclude with John Sewell and his descendants.
Meaning of Hitcham: Article in the Daily Mirror, date unknown
Kelly’s Directory for Suffolk 1888
and other years, available from
Parish register transcripts, Suffolk Family History Society
Edward Sewell, Sarah Balsham marriage, Suffolk County Council, Suffolk Archive Service
The Hitcham Village web site
Hitcham facts and church information The Hitcham Church Guide, and the Discovering Historical Hitcham series of booklets, the latter by David Turner, a local historian
Various family trees from public trees available from
Census data 1841 to 1911,
Birth, death and marriage certificates, Government Records Office
Wills admitted to probate Government Records Office