The gifts of John Rippon of Bramdean, 1799

Over the past 24 months Hampshire Archives and Local Studies have been adding to a steadily growing list of historic sources that evidence Black lives in Hampshire’s extensive collections. The list of almost 300 documents, films and audio recordings evidence the lives of communities and individuals whose life journeys brought them to Hampshire.

The list is a work in progress, but it will be possible to obtain it on request for research purposes later this year. This month we are sharing two documents from the list.

John Rippon of Bramdean, 1799

John Rippon was a resident of Bramdean, who lived in the closing years of the eighteenth century and worked as a servant to the Earls of Powis. As was customary for the time (1799) he wrote his last will and testament to ensure his estate was correctly distributed after his death.

The language used in historical documents often does not lend itself to making people identifiable but can often tell us a lot about the way individuals thought about themselves and also how others viewed them. Pictured is the second page of John Rippon’s will, wherein it states:

‘I Give and Bequeath unto Mr Jeffery Bridge my Executor… now Steward to the… Earl [of] Powis One Gold mourning Ring of Two Guineas value, as also the sum of [£5 5s]… the… Remainder of my Personal Estate and Effects… to the Poor of the Parish of Bramdean […]’

On the image below you can see he includes the following bequests:

  • to Mr John Way of Brompton, Middlesex, paperhanger: 21 guineas, all his clothes, books, three trunks and boxes
  • to Joseph Saltridge, servant to the Earl of Powis: £6 6s
  • to the Earl of Powis: ‘my Common Prayer Book with a Green Cover and the Gold watch now in my Possession… being his Lordship’s own property’

Elsewhere in his Will are the following gifts:

Mr Samuel Warburton, Mr Samuel Dakin, Mrs Dakin his wife, Mr James Kinsey, Mr Richard Proctor, Peggy Steadman housemaid and Mrs Patty Watkins the sum of £2 2s each; Mr John Heling, Mr John Robin, Betty kitchen-maid £1 1s each;

Mr John Martin the sum of £2 2s; (all in the service of the Earl of Powis) to Mrs Howell and her son Joel Howell, a poor blind and dumb boy supposed to be in or near Oxford Street in the City of London the sum of £1 1s each;

to Mr Jeffery Bridge my executor and now steward to the Earl of Powis one Gold mourning ring of two guineas value and the sum of £5 5s;

It is only when this document, Rippon’s will, is cross-referenced with another – the burial register for the parish of Bramdean in 1800 (HRO: 1M77/PR2) – that we learn more about John Rippon’s heritage.

Here he is described as being Black and as having been ‘more than fifty years in the service of the Earls of Powis’. It is an unfortunate truth that many Black individuals are noted in such records as ‘servants’ when in many cases they are likely to have been forcibly enslaved – though without further research at this stage we cannot know for sure the path that brought Rippon to Hampshire.

While we know little of Rippon’s life outside of these documents, we know that he described himself as a ‘gentleman’ and that he was able to leave a total of £7,114.46 to his friends and the poor of the parish, demonstrating an awareness of his social position but also a generous benevolence.


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