The Say Rectors of East Hatley
By Ishbel Beatty
Years of incumbency
Francis 1689-1705 (16 years)
William 1722-1751 (29 years)
Francis 1753-96 (42 years)
Henry 1799-1824 (25 years)
Francis, William, Francis, Henry ...These were four Rectors surnamed SAY, who numbered between them over 112 years of service to the parish.
Some of the most interesting aspects of their lives are revealed by the wills they left. The first Francis anticipated his death by five years when he wrote his in 1700. None of his five children had yet reached their teens, and he left to each of them ‘fourscore pounds’ with directions as to the use of the money by his executrix, his widow. The daughters were to receive their share at age 21. The sons should be educated ‘at College ...at 14 or 16 years ...if they are fit’; if not, ‘to be bound apprentice to a good trade.’
Before this Francis died at the age of 58, he had buried his brother Alexander in East Hatley churchyard, also in his 50s. The parish clerk wrote of Francis in the burial register ‘he was a peacemaker in the parish’. A memorial tablet bore the peacemaker’s name and also an armorial shield. The arms have been attributed to an earlier Francis Say, of Weston Favell, Northamptonshire, 1618. He was our Rector’s grandfather, and his ancestry has been traced several generations earlier.
One of Francis’s sons was to succeed him as Rector of East Hatley in 1722. This was William Cray Say, the youngest, now using his grandmother’s surname to chime with Say. His eldest brother, yet another Francis, like William went to Christ’s College, and died in 1741, a vicar in Norfolk. The third brother, John, was not ordained, and may have been in the service of the third Sir George Downing, as his name is to be found as a witness to the latter’s will of 1717, and to a codicil 10 years later.
William Cray Say did not marry and his will of 1751 names nephews and nieces in Suffolk as heirs. He also mentions a cousin, Mrs Sarah Thory – that surname is known among earlier Rectors of Hatley st George, so there is some further relationship there. He names John and William Say as nephews and leaves a bequest to ‘my nephew the Reverend Francis Say’ (the third Francis in this story) and it is he (presumed to be a son of John) who follows his uncle to the Rectorship in 1753. Francis’s first wife, Elizabeth Cory, died not long after childbirth, and the story of his second marriage in 1760 is told by the antiquary William Cole.
The patron of the living of East Hatley at the time was an imperious Lady Downing, widow of Sir Jacob Garrett Downing. She is said to have had a niece, Diana Morgan, who had fallen unsuitably in love; so Lady Downing commanded her parish priest to marry her forthwith, and settled £10,000 on the bride to encourage the match. William Cole writes of Francis: ‘sober and honest ...but the merest country parson I ever saw.’ Nine children were born to the couple, of whom four survived to adulthood. The names of two of them, Margaret and Price, signify their parents’ indebtedness to Lady Downing, these having been her original names. The family lived in London for a period, and later at Brook End, Gamlingay, probably the house which came to be known as Merton Grange. A daughter Ann died here at age 21 – she has a memorial in Gamlingay parish church (1793).
Francis’s will of 1796 is less interesting than the earlier ones, but he left £1,000 to his youngest son, Henry Morgan Say at age 25. Henry took his degree at Oxford, and became Rector in 1799 and the father of nine children, two of them buried in the parish. He seems to have lived at the Hatley St George parsonage, where he had been curate, as the East Hatley one was in a ruinous state, arid when the latter burned down in 1821 he refused to rebuild it. Because of this, and the fact that he was holding another living unlicensed, he was asked to leave and seems to have moved to the Rochester diocese.
Henry’s eldest son, yet another Francis, became Vicar of Braughing, Hertfordshire, and with other members of the family made a considerable impact on the life of that village in the 19th century. Many other Says are distributed about Norfolk, Bedfordshire and London, and our East Hatley line is but a twig of that flourishing tree.