Catalogue description The Townsend Papers

This record is held by Buckinghamshire Archives

Details of D 85
Reference: D 85
Title: The Townsend Papers

Deeds and papers relating to the Townsend family of Wood End House in Medmenham, Bucks


They consist principally of: title deeds of the family's estate at Wood End in the Thameside parish of Medmenham from 1618, with settlements, etc., for Townsend and related families from the mid-eighteenth century; correspondence and papers of Joseph Townsend (d.1862), land surveyor of Wood End, relating to estate and personal matters, with some earlier estate papers from c.1770; and account books for Wood End, 1821-1853, including farm accounts for the period 1821-1843. Apart from the accounts, which are very good examples of their kind, the chief interest of the archive resides in Joseph Townsend's papers. These contain numerous references to local affairs and to his profession as a surveyor (and later as an assistant tithe commissioner) and include diaries for 1830 and 1831 and memoranda book 1849-1852. An example of material of local interest is his correspondence on the state of the roads in the vicinity of Wood End in the 1830s (D 85/12/10/1-32)

Date: 1617 - 1882
Held by: Buckinghamshire Archives, not available at The National Archives
Language: English

Townsend family of Medmenham, Buckinghamshire

Physical description: 13 series
Immediate source of acquisition:

The Townsend Papers were deposited on permanent loan with the Business Archives Council, London, in 1958. With the owner's consent, they were transferred to the Buckinghamshire Record Office in 1969.


(AR 63/69).

  • Townsend, Joseph, d 1862, surveyor
  • Medmenham, Buckinghamshire
Administrative / biographical background:

The Townsends and Wood End.


In 1738 Joseph Townsend, a London tailor, purchased the small estate at Wood End in Medmenham which had belonged since around 1660 to the Dicconsons, a family which also had close links with the capital. Joseph Townsend is credited with having built Wood End House, which became the family residence, but the date 1730 on the present building makes this unlikely. Between 1757 and 1764 his son, Joseph Townsend the younger, of London and Medmenham, purchased Finnamore (Finnemore) Farm (76 acres) and Finnamore Wood (41 acres), both situated in close proximity to Wood End but within a small detatched portion (455 acres) of the Oxfordshire parish of Lewknor Uphill (later transferred to Bucks), known as The Moor and Finnamore otherwise Ackhampstead. He also acquired Coombe Wood (24 acres) in Hambleden in 1753 and Bitteridge Wood (30a.) in Little Marlow parish, and pieces of land in Charl Mead in Medmenham in 1781. After this no significant additions were made to the property, which in 1787 comprised a total of 315 acres (D 85/8/4).


By his will, proved in 1793, Joseph Townsend the younger settled his estate on his two sons, Joseph Copestake Townsend and William Townsend, in tail male. Joseph Copestake outlived his younger brother and on his death in 1841 the estate descended to his nephew Joseph Townsend. By his will, proved in 1862, the latter in turn settled the estate on his younger brother William with remainder to his brother Thomas Scott Townsend. William is thought to have died in 1878 (Plaisted) and in 1882 T.S. Townsend, then living in Florence, barred the entail by a deed of this date which is effectively the latest document in the archive. Wood End continued in the Townsend family until the 1920s, when it was sold to David Longbottom.


Woodend House is to be distinguished from the adjoining Wood End Farm and Lower Wood End, neither of which appears to have formed part of the Townsend estate.


Joseph Townsend (d.1862)


As indicated above, a great many of the less formal papers in the archive relate to the Joseph Townsend who inherited the Wood End estate. He was born around 1793 and was the eldest of the eleven or more children of William Townsend (d.1836). William, who had followed a naval career (Lipscomb), held a lease of the greater part of the estatefrom his father dated 1789 (D 85/8/3). He later obtained another lease from his brother in 1801 (D 85/8/6). In this lease and in his marriage settlement of 1790 he is described as of Great Marlow; gentleman, but he evidently settled at Wood End soon after as according to his monument in Medmenham church he was a resident of the parish for thirty five years.


In 1813 Joseph was apprenticed to Stephen Godson, land surveyor, of Hook Norton, Oxfordshire and he afterwards set up as a surveyor on his own account. By 1822 he was living at Grays Inn Square, London. Later, following his marriage to Jane Henderson in 1827, he resided at Bedford Row, London, finally returning to live at Wood End in 1831. Commissions undertaken included the surveyor-ship of the Hill and Moor inclosure in Worcestershire in 1832 and work for the Marquess of Downshire and other large landowners. In 1836 he was appointed an assistant tithe commissioner following the Tithe Commutation Act of that year, an office which he held until 1851. A later application for public employment was unsuccessful. Townsend's signature appears on a number of Buckinghamshire tithe maps. Further information about his career will be found in the account in The Tithe Surveys of England and Wales by Kain and Prince, 1985, which is largely based on his papers.


After his father's death, aged 75 years, in 1835 Joseph Townsend farmed Wood End jointly with his brother William, an arrangement which he terminated when he inherited from his uncle in 1841. Some-time after 1852 he removed from Wood End to Great Marlow and the estate was leased to tenants. In 1833 he became involved, with his uncle, in an expensive lawsuit over the estate. It arose from an alleged defect in the purchase deeds of Finnamore Wood by his grandfather some eighty years previously. An account of this lawsuit, which was one of the last to be initiated by the antiquated process of writ of right, is given in a draft letter from Joseph to Lord Chancellor Brougham (D 85/11/21/7).


Joseph Townsend's strongly independent and protestant views involved him in controversy locally. He led the opposition to the vicar of Medmenham, the Rev. T.A. Powys, a disciple of the Oxford Movement, when the latter inserted an altar stone in the chancel of the parish church and was successful in having it removed. He published the correspondence in this dispute in 1845 (Keiner p.330); the originals were not found among the papers.


In 1849 Townsend joined in the protest against the attempt by the Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce, to pull down Ackhampstead chapel, commonly known as "the Moor Chapel",which served the detached area of Lewknor Uphill parish in Bucks. A petition to the House of Commons was presented by Disraeli as member for the County. Despite the protests the chapel was demolished and was replaced by the church of St. Mary-le-Moor, erected in 1851 to serve the new ecclesiastical parish of Cadmore End.


In 1850 Joseph Townsend was appointed a justice of the peace for Buckinghamshire. He was also a governor of Borlase School in Marlow. He died in 1862 aged 69 years.

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