Sarah Persey/Pursey of Welwyn

There was one Pursey who, long ago, set tongues wagging in the village. Her name was Sarah Pursey or Pursey née Vaughan

She was born in September 1691 to Thomas and Jane Vaughan, keepers of the then Swan Inn in the High Street. At the time, husband-to-be Henry’s parents Thomas and Susannah Pursey, kept the White Hart on the corner of Prospect Place.

She married – or was married off by her parents to – Henry when she was just 21, in September 1712. A son Thomas was born a year later followed by George a year after. Although Henry and Sarah were married for more than 20 years, it seems they had no further children as in her will, Sarah mentions only George.

Sarah, it seems didn’t appreciate the rural ways of Henry and his family. During her life, she moved in increasingly exalted circles and counted amongst her friends and acquaintances noted poet and rector Dr Edward Young and surgeon Robert Gelsthorpe.

In all likelihood, Sarah and Robert were more than just good friends and on his death in 1731, he left all his property in trust for Sarah (including the properties of Guessens – see property section – and Holly Hall). There was however, one condition: that “the said Henry Persey her now Husband shall not have use or enjoy the same estate so given”, further stipulating that if she sold the properties, “the money arising thereby shall be to and for her own particular separate use wherewith her Husband shall have nothing to do therewith”.

In a reciprocal show of affection, Sarah, in turn, erected a tablet in Welwyn church which reads: “To the Beloved Memory of Robert Gelsthorpe, Esq, Late of this Town, who departed this Life the 8th day of January 1731, aged 34 Years … This monument was erected as Grateful Acknowledgement of his Friendship by one to whom he was a Kind Benefactor.”

The Rev John Jones, Curate of Welwyn, notes in 1758, that the one to whom Gelsthorpe was a kind benefactor was his mistress, “Mrs P. the wife of another man”.

When she died in 1743, Sarah left Guessens to her mother Jane Vaughan and thereafter to sister Elizabeth. She also left Elizabeth “the picture of my dear friend Robert Gelsthorpe which was drawn when he was a child and hangs in my Bedchamber”. She left Holly Hall to her and Henry’s son George where he lived until his death in 1751. Her last wish to George was that “he never lets any one of the family of the Perseys inherit any part of what I herein given him”.

George was also a surgeon who married Anne Carter in 1745. He died four years later in 1749, without children, leaving everything he had to his wife Anne. And so it was, the Pursey family never received a penny!

As for Dr Young – he would inherit Guessens from Sarah’s mother Joan after her death.

(With thanks to William Branch Johnson and the information contained in his short book Welwyn, By and Large: Historical Gossip from a Hertfordshire Village, published 1967.)