The London-born daughters of George James Dee (1858-1924) had a fanciful notion that
their family had descended from John Dee - a sixteenth century sorcerer, astrologer,
philosopher and mathematician who was prominent in the court of Queen Elizabeth I.
However, the Dee pedigree has not been established and despite several attempts,
the Dee line when researched backwards peters out in around 1715.
William Dee (1715c - 1771)
The earliest traceable Dee is William (my greatx5 grandfather) who died at Upper
Clatford, Hampshire in 1771. Ironically, it was his death which furnishes most of
the information about his life as he left a will and a readable headstone still stands
in the graveyard of the local parish church. So, what can be gleaned from these sources?
His monumental inscription helpfully records that he died on 23 September 1771, aged
fifty-five - so William was born in 1715 -16. Unfortunately, I have not discovered
the parish records which give details of his birth or of his parents. It is his will
(held at Hampshire Archives), dated 6 March 1868 which provided some facts about
his family. The following is an epitome:
William was a horse doctor from Upper Clatford. His brother, John Dee, and his brother-in-law,
Thomas Dowling were nominated as his executors. His estate was equally divided between
his two sons, Thomas and William Dee. His unmarried daughter, Mary Dee (who was living
with him in 1768), was left £5 to ‘buy her mourning’ (clothes) and a guinea to buy
a mourning ring. She was also to inherit William’s late wife’s side-saddle and bridle.
With this information, it is possible to search for William’s marriage to Thomas
Dowling’s daughter. William married Anne Dowling at Upper Clatford Church (right)
on 30 December 1746. There are details in parish records of the baptism of the sons
mentioned in William’s will.
(1715c - 1771)
(1723 - 1764)
bap. 24 Apr 1750 Andover
bap. 23 Nov 1747
One might think that it should be possible to find more details of William’s parents
- especially as William was not a labourer, but enjoyed a reasonable standard of
living, as we shall see. But there is no record of John or William Dee’s baptism
near Upper Clatford.
There is a family of Dees about twenty miles away at Droxford and the Meon Valley
in Hampshire during the early eighteenth century. Several of the men-folk were blacksmiths
and some left wills, but even with these encouraging similarities, a link with our
William Dee cannot be forged with certainty.
Information about William’s health and wealth may be deduced. He died at a relatively
young age, fifty-five and according to his will he was ‘weak in body’ for at least
three years before his death.
There are several signs that William had some personal fortune. His estate was large
enough to justify a will and his children could afford a headstone. When he and Anne
married, they did so, not after the reading of banns in church, but by licence which
was obtained from the diocesan consistory court - a method of observing the legal
niceties which was often preferred by more affluent families. William’s father-in-law,
Thomas Dowling, was a local yeoman farmer and would have preferred his daughter to
marry within his social class. Incidentally, when William married, his home parish
was the town of Andover, which is just to the north of Upper Clatford.
William Dee - horse doctor
Whether dragging ploughs or pulling carriages, horses were essential in eighteenth
century Britain and their health was a constant concern. When they were sick, call
for the horse doctor!
It was his charge to keep horses pulling on the highways and working in the fields.
He was what we would call today a vet/farrier - a skilled craftsman who could prepare
a horse’s hoof for shoeing, fit the shoe by nailing and then apply the finishing
touches. There was an old saying - ‘No hoof; no horse’ because the condition of horses
depends on strong hooves to support them.
But the work of the horse doctor was far more complex. He was also responsible for
horse’s teeth. These are constantly growing and sometimes wear into sharp edges
and points which cut lips and rake the sides of mouths. The result is a horse which
is difficult to control and which loses weight because it is unable to chew food.
Among the horse doctor’s tools was an eighteen inch rasp with a wooden handle and
rounded edges which removed rough edges. Unlike humans visits to the dentist, horses
seem to find the filing of their teeth soporific.
Horse doctors also had potions and recipes to deal with disease, purging, cholic,
worms, the staggers, broken wind and other disgusting equine ailments. Many were
the buckets of mash which were mixed. Also, if horses went lame or were foaling,
then the horse doctor was summoned.
Several later writers drew attention to one noticeable aspect of the horse doctor
- ‘He sure smells like a horse doctor!’. Mark Twain wrote: ‘The horse doctor came.
In the matter of smell he was pretty aromatic - in fact quite horsey.’
In the nineteenth century, horse doctors became known as farriers who specifically
shod horses with shoes made by the blacksmith. The general well-being of horses became
the speciality of the vet.
There can be little doubt that William was from a family which was of a higher social
class than a labourer. He was literate (signing his will) and it is unlikely that
he would have become a horse doctor if he had modest origins.
From a family historian’s viewpoint, it is frustrating that more cannot be discovered
about his immediate family, even though Dee is a fairly uncommon surname and his
will gives information of who, in his family, was alive in 1768 .
A search of the Hampshire Burial Index, gives no clear details of the death of his
brother or children, Thomas and Mary. Perhaps the family were more associated with
Berkshire as the county boundary lies fairly close to Upper Clatford.
William was buried (right) on 26 September 1771 in a plot at Upper Clatford church
beside his wife, Anne.
William Dee (1750 - 1824)
William Dee, my greatx4 grandfather, was baptized at Andover on 24 April 1850 and
lived for much of his married life in the town. He was literate, signing a legal
Only fragments of his family’s life can be pieced together. He married Jane in around
1772 although the exact date, place and her maiden name have yet to be found. The
couple had seven known children. Their first child, Mary Ann, was baptized at Upper
Clatford and the last five were baptized at Andover.
As the advertisement (right) shows in 1775 William was trading as a farrier at The
George Inn, Andover (see below) of which he was also probably the inn keeper as five
years later, on 28 April 1780, William was assigned a mortgage to a house on the
east side of New Street, Andover and he was described as an inn holder. The 1784
Hampshire Directory also places him at The George Inn, Andover. However, on 12, 13
June and 1 July 1786 , William (described as a farrier and druggist) appeared before
a bankruptcy court held at The Angel, Andover.
The Universal British Directory (1793-98) notes William as continuing to trade as
a ‘horse doctor’ in the Andover area. He probably left the town in around 1806 -
his home was Upper Clatford according to the notice shown right and the mortgage
on the New Street, Andover property was relinquished on 24 August 1808 when he was
still described as a farrier. In October 1814, he is listed as a creditor of the
insolvent debtor, James Banks of Stockbridge, Hants.
On 20 January 1826, the Court Baron noted that ‘William Dee died Easter Monday 1824
(aged 74) - one of the lives by which a leasehold messuage (house) and one yard (plot)
land belonging to Mary Hooper are held’.
John Dee 1783 - 1854
My greatx3 grandfather, John Dee was baptised at Andover on 23 May 1783. He moved
with his parents to Upper Clatford in around 1806 and was working at a farrier with
his father in 1814.
When he was aged thirty-six, John married Andover girl, Ann Pring, at St Mary, Newington,
Southwark, Surrey on 22 August 1819.
The couple had three known sons between 1820 and 1825 each of whom was baptized at
After his father’s death, for some reason there was a delay in winding up his father’s
estate as John was not appointed as administrator until 1836. He was able to sign
the legal document which showed a degree of education.
John was working as a farrier through the 1820s and would have lived through the
‘Swing Riot’ that affected Upper Clatford in 1830 (See link: Swing Riot).
In 1841, the leased family home was falling into disrepair. In 1820, the Court Baron
reported that the garden wall and stable wall of the cottage ‘in lease to Miss Hooper
was out of repair’ and, following Mary Hooper’s death in 1832, the buildings were
‘in decay for neglect of repairing’ and the ‘whole buildings are in a dangerous state
and in all probability will fall down’. Hardly a fit home for a prospering tradesman!
A further clear sign that the Dee’s star was on the wane was that John’s sons were
not following the family traditional trade as farriers - two were agricultural labourers
and his third son was a servant at Clatford Rectory.
The 1841 census recorded John with his sons (although Ann was absent) living on the
main street of the village with William Smart as his neighbour, apparently. William’s
daughter, Lucy, was later to marry John’s son, William John. It was probably this
hovel that was tumbling down as the 1841 Tithe Map shows the Dees living elsewhere
in the village in a cottage and garden occupying 18 perches which was rented from
Perhaps it was economic necessity which forced John and Ann to move to London. When
John died on 26 April 1854 after a week of paralysis (probably following a stroke)
he was living at 1 Elm Court, Holborn. He was described as a vet. The informant of
his death was his daughter-in-law, Lucy Dee who had made the journey from Nine Elms,
South London to be present when he died.
In 1861, the widowed Ann was living with her unmarried son, Thomas, at 4 Elm Court,
Holborn. Ann was a schoolmistress and Thomas was a brewer’s servant.
William John (1820 - 1865c) and Lucy (nee Smart) Dee 1816 - 1889
What befell William is a mystery - Lucy was described as a widow living in Clerkenwell
in 1871. Despite searching the Death Indexes and burials in London, I can’t find
a record of his demise. What is apparent is that William left the world of the brewery
and was employed as a railway policeman. When his sons’ married in the 1870’s, their
father was variously described as, ‘railway servant’, ‘railway policemen’ and ‘railway
inspector’. He was also said to be a ‘farmer’ in 1882 - I suspect he was posthumously
promoted when his youngest sons married. So, perhaps William was killed in a railway
accident. The National Archives does not hold records of railway policemen and there
were sufficient railway companies as to make searching for his employment records
like looking for a siding at Clapham Junction.
By 1871, Lucy Dee had moved north of the river and together with her son, George
and her nephew, William Carver from Clatford, she was sharing the house at 40 Gee
Street, Clerkenwell with three other families and working as a charwoman or cleaning
Ten years later, in 1881, mother and son were still together, but had moved to 85
Glenarm Road, Stoke Newington. George was supporting his mother.
Lucy died from senile decay and cerebral effusion (fluid around the brain) on 6 October
1889 at George’s home above the shop at 119 Church Road, Stoke Newington. The following
day, she was buried across the road at Abney Park Cemetery.
On another occasion, William was also in a financial position to provide surety of
£100 for a Marriage Bond for the Clatford blacksmith, William Knowles and his wife,
Elizabeth. Such a Bond affirms that the particulars of a marriage allegation were
true and that there was no reason for the union not to proceed. This considerable
sum is the equivalent of five years wages for an farm worker.
Perhaps William’s fortune was helped by a thrifty nature - in his will he stipulated
that he should be buried in a ‘decent and frugal manner’.