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Charlton Marshall Village HistorySun, 21st July 2019

Charlton Marshall Village History

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Who was John Truelove of Charlton Marshall? This John Truelove was Gentleman, Churchwarden, Surgeon, Widower, Debtor. Each of those words tells us something about him but his name is known because in 1742 he took his own life, apparently after a series of misfortunes.

John (also known as James) had retired from London to Charlton Marshall. To retire from the city to the countryside is not a new idea! In the mid 18th century though, the countryside was very different from what it is today. Roads were unpaved, most dwellings and land were leased from the lord of the manor, and tithes were paid to the clergy. The poor travelled on foot and seldom went further than the nearest market town, in our case Blandford, while the better-off went on horseback or by horse drawn conveyance.

At the time, Charlton Marshall consisted of the cottages in Gravel Lane, and others in The Close and River Lane, and around the centre of the village. There were some farms including the outlying ones that still exist today and two or three bigger houses, one of which John Truelove rented from Andrew Hopegood, the lord of the manor.

John was well respected in the village. He was married to Mary and had several children but at least one of them, named Mary like her mother, died in infancy and was buried at our church on October 14th 1735. She is described as 'infant daughter of James and the late Mary' so it is likely that her mother died in childbirth or soon after, meaning that John and his other children had suffered a double tragedy. It appears too that they may have only recently moved into the house opposite the church on the site of what is now Charlton House Court. The very next year however, John became churchwarden with Henry Horlock whose monument is on the south wall of the church near the pulpit.

John got into debt; we do not know how, but by 1742 things were really playing on his mind. He thought he could see a way out; his late wife had had money of her own which had been put in trust for the children – could he find a way of accessing it? No, and this probably pushed him further into both debt and despair. The final straw came when John Thorn, a mercer from Blandford, sued him for payment of money owed to him; had he been buying expensive fabrics from the mercer or was it just one of a pile of smaller unpaid accounts that had built up?

Two days before the case was due to be heard, Thorn offered a way out – 'give me everything you own, go abroad, let me sell your goods and take what you owe me, then I'll send the balance on to you'. This idea didn't appeal, so instead, Truelove paid off his servants, sent his children away, gathered a good supply of furze and locked himself indoors. When the officers of the law arrived on the morning of 20th October 1742, he set the place on fire and shot himself. The house was completely destroyed but thanks to it being a calm day no other buildings were damaged.

John Hutchins the 18th century Dorset historian wrote 'Nothing remained of this unfortunate man, but some of his bowels, part of his backbone, and one of his feet in a shoe'.

Mark Churchill.

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