Samuel Hellier

Samuel Hellier, grandfather to Sir Samuel Hellier, lived from 1672 to 1727. He was the son of Samuel Hellier, a London Merchant and his wife Lydia. There were to be four generations of Samuel Helliers in a row, and each of the first three had a single surviving son, called Samuel to continue the family name. This is significant because when the fourth and last, Sir Samuel Hellier came to write his will in 1784 he was a bachelor and had no first or even second Hellier cousins to whom to leave his vast accumulated estate and also considerable debts. 

We know that in 1719 the Helliers had relations in Somerset and there is a William Hellier, a tanner, mentioned in Samuel’s brother’s will. William Hellier would appear to have two daughters Katherine Burgess and Ann Kington, who were alive in 1735, but they or their descendants are not mentioned again. A Godfrey Hellier from Bristol had been admitted to Inner Temple in 1684.

In 1690 the young Samuel is recorded as starting a City apprenticeship to Benjamin Greene as a Brewer.

Samuel’s father died in 1694 and left a will describing him as a Salesman of Savoy Precinct. The trade he was involved in clearly brought him considerable wealth and was almost certainly seaborne. He talks of his ‘estate’ in Shadwell and is able to leave three bequests of £1000 each. John Hellier, Samuel’s younger brother was born in 1680 and when he dies in 1719 at the age of 39 he is described as a Merchant. In his will he talks of his close and dear friend Mr Thomas Greene, who had been of great assistance in his “time of misfortunes”. His wealth is moderate but he leaves two “Cremona Violins” to his nephew Samuel Hellier. This is the start of the Hellier collection of Musical instruments and gives a nice early date for contact with Stradivarius in Cremona.

Samuel married the heiress Penelope Harris in 1698 and the Harris relations were important through the lives of each of the subsequent Samuels. The Harrises would appear to be the gateway for the Helliers into the Staffordshire Gentry and a means to ‘refine’ their City of London wealth in the shires. The Harris land and estates around Bradford in Belbroughton and Wombourne were considerable and listed in the will of Penelope’s grandfather, John Harris, who died and left a will of 1706. Some of this passed to the Helliers on the death of William Harris, Penelope’s brother.  Penelope’s two brothers Samuel and William both died young and childless and a substantial portion of these estates that must have  came to her and her heir, Samuel Hellier (1699-1751). However, the contentious issue was that Penelope’s father had remarried and had a second much younger family. John Harris (bap 17 Jan 1708) and Charles Harris (bap 8 Dec 1709) were nearly forty years younger than their half sisters.

John Harris (1708-1786) was to become an attorney and it is he who is deeply involved in the disputed will of Samuel Hellier in 1751. He is described as the half blood uncle, and in his duties prepared codicils to the dying Samuel’s will, that were eventually deemed invalid. Charles Harris, the younger half brother, studied at Worcester College Oxford, was ordained and became Headmaster of King Edward VI School, Stourbridge. Worcester College had been ‘founded’ out of money from the Winford family. Sir Thomas Cookes Winford was an important Worcestershire landowner and a significant figure in a number of subsequent land and marriage transactions, with both the Harrises and the Helliers.

John Harris (1708-1786) was thus the male heir of some of these Harris estates that had ended up in the hands of the Helliers and this was the subject of some litigation. His will of 1786 is revealing but a little difficult to interpret. He claims to be owed a “large sum of money” by Sir Samuel Hellier.  He also talks of Five Hundred year leases. But the law of inheritance of some manorial holdings was that they could not normally pass down the female line without direct approval. He and his heir, Aston Harris were a more logical inheritor of Sir Samuel Hellier’s estates than Thomas Shaw.

With so many key documents missing or undiscovered, it is difficult to know which lands and tenancies disputed in the 1790’s after Sir Samuel’s death came from where. The Harris’s evidently owned land in Wombourne in 1706 but the Huntbachs, whose estates centred on Featherstone,  also owned property there. This is a key and complex period in the transfer of the Wodehouse, Wombourne into the hands of the Helliers and hence on to the Shaw-Helliers. It seems likely that the Wodehouse Wombourne may not have legally gone to the Helliers until 1735 (marriage of Samuel Hellier to Sarah Huntbach). It is not mentioned in Samuel’s will of 1727.

However, all the evidence suggests that Samuel Hellier and Penelope his wife started living in Wombourne, and probably the Woodhouse, maybe at first as tenants from about 1716. John Hellier, Samuel’s unmarried brother, was the first to be buried in the family vault in 1719, aged 39. The next interment was Samuel Hellier himself in 1727, aged 55.

Up until about 1703, the Wodehouse had been in the hands of the Woodhouse family for several hundred years. Edward Woodhouse died in 1688  (bur 28 May 1688) and in his will, probate 1691, he left it to his son Francis AND his other four daughters – how this was supposed to work is not obvious and Francis, possibly still a minor, died childless not long after. But it looks as if the house momentarily passed to the control of Edward’s brother John Woodhouse in 1691. He was already a landowner in Lincolnshire and presumably was not interested in the house. It eventually found its way over to the Huntbachs. Edward’s deceased wife Elizabeth Woodhouse (the grand daughter of Henry Gough) had a nephew Rupert Huntbach, who was also a blood relation of Edward’s mother, Mary Huntbach, a generation further back.

A few documents in the National Archives dated 1703 give an indication that Francis Woodhouse had been a Ward in Chancery to one or both of Thomas Cookes Winford and John Harris (snr). The Guardian in Chancery under new legal provisions enacted in the 1690’s seem to have extraordinary powers. Charles Lyttleton, again a well connected neighbouring landlord played a similar role in 1751 to the young Sir Samuel. The wresting of the Wodehouse from the Woodhouse family and making it the family seat of the Helliers was thus a multi-generational task –  one that eventually weighed down on Sir Samuel, in his quest for an heir.

Samuel died in 1727 and in his will describes himself as a Gent of Holborn. The place of his interment is good evidence of the permanence of the arrival of the Helliers in Staffordshire, but the family retained their London address and clearly spent much time there. The property mentioned is in Devonshire Street, St Andrews, Holborn. Samuel Hellier, junior, attended the Inner Temple and was an active barrister. (admitted 7 Feb 1718, called to the bar 19 Jun 1724) Both he and Sir Samuel appear to have continued to spend a full season in London every year and we can presume Samuel II did the same.

Selected Sources

  • Will of Samuel Hellier, Gent of Holborn, Probate 21 Nov 1727, National Archives PCC.
  • Will of Samuel Hellier, Probate 15 Feb 1694, National Archives PCC (Father)
  • Will of Lydia Hellier, Probate 13 Jun 1700, Natonal Archives PCC (Mother)
  • Will of John Hellier, Merchant of St James Westminster, Probate 1719, National Archives PCC (brother)
  • Will of John Harris, Gent of Broome, Probate 13 Feb 1706, National Archives PCC (wife’s grandfather)
  • Will of John Harris, Gent of Bellbroughton, Probate 1786, National Archives (Half Uncle – younger than him)
  • Will of Edward Woodhouse, will 1688, Probate 29 May 1691, Lichfield Record Office
  • National Archives: Court of Chancery 1703: C 7/377/17 Cookes Winford v William Prestwood (husband of Margaret Woodhouse, heir of Edward)
  • National Archives: Court of Chancery 1703: C 6/95/92 Cookes Winford v Raban
Last updated on 30 March 2024 by JJ Morgan