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Thomas Chiverton - an extraordinary gift

Every so ofton when you research family trees you stumble on something or someone quite extraordinary, I’ve been researching a family tree for a friend whose family is so embedded in this particular area of rural Suffolk, and is so full of farm labourers, that stumbling over the very humble and talented Thomas Chiverton was a lovely surprise.


Thomas Chiverton was born around 1783 in Offton, Suffolk. On 4th November 1807, when he was around 24, he married Mary Mann, who was 20, in Kersey, Suffolk. Mary was born and brought up in Kersey. It must have been a shotgun wedding because in the March following the first of their nine children, Robert Chiverton arrived. I knew that Thomas Chiverton came from another village because I found a “settlement examination” in Kersey in June 1810, this examination would have been taken by the Overseer of the Poor, and a Justice of the Peace, and was carried out to make sure a person had a legitimate right to residence in the parish. Especially if the parish authorities thought someone was likely to become a financial burden to the parish (unmarried pregnant women, vagrants etc). If someone failed the settlement examination they were issued with a Removal Order and shipped back to their home parish.


Over the next several years, Thomas and Mary had nine children in total, 5 sons and 4 daughters. Sometime between 1812 and 1816 Thomas and Mary Chiverton moved to Raydon, and then shortly after to Great Wenham where they settled permanently.


Anyway, it turns out Thomas Cheverton had an amazing singing voice and was renowned locally, and the painter John Constable, who lived in the area, wrote Thomas’s obituary when Thomas died at the age of 48, leaving his wife a widow with nine children. I found the following written about Thomas:



Thomas Cheverton, a labourer of Great Wenham gifted with a singing voice of exceptional quality and power, had died on the 29th July (1831). Amongst Constable's papers Leslie found the draft of an obituary notice dated the 1st August and written out in Constable's own hand. After mentioning that Cheverton had left a widow and nine children, it concluded with the words, "He was gentle and affectionate to his family, who are now thrown on a world, too busy, it is feared, to cast a look on beings so humble, or to extend the hand of charity to object so unobtrusive and friendless." It is evidently to the result of an appeal on their behalf that Mary Constable refers in her letter below.


I am so glad to hear by Abram just now, that at a late meeting at Tattingstone "the pay" is granted to the widow Chiverton--&; that the Clergyman, &; chief people of Wenham have signed a paper in her favour--- and this will add to your history of her when you speak of her to the....


(Taken from Constable family letters, 1829 - 1837)


An Obituary Notice


Died on the 29th ult. at Great Wenham, Thomas Cheverton, aged 48 years, leaving a widow and nine children. This individual, although in the humble condition of a day labourer, may fairly claim some further notice in our obituary from the circumstance of his being gifted with a most extraordinary voice, one of the fullest, richest, and sweetest counter tenors ever perhaps heard.

He could with ease ascend to D and even in to E in Alt. His knowledge of music was by no means inconsiderable, and his appearance in the humble choirs of the village churches in his immediate neighbourhood was always hailed with silent satisfaction even by the best educated people.

He was gentle and affectionate to his family, who are now thrown on a world, too busy, it is feared, to cast a look on beings so humble, or to extend the hand of charity to objects so unobtrusive and friendless.


You are probably wondering what happened to Thomas’s poor widow Mary and their nine children, well their oldest son Robert Chiverton was now married and living and labouring in Great Wenham, and Robert and his wife Tryphena took the widowed Mary and her younger children in, and she lived with them for over 20 years until her death in 1861 when she was 74 years of age, she was getting Parish Relief as this is mentioned on the 1861 census. Robert and Tryphena had ten children themselves so the amount of housework her and Mary had, doesn’t bear thinking about.

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