The hidden history of Hornchurch’s gentry
- Credit: D Tothill
When a housewife agreed to look into the family history of an old friend she had no idea she would uncover a lost story of wealth and power that transcended continents and had its foundation in Havering.
Over a lazy lunch 51-year-old Debbie Kirk mentioned to a friend, Beatrice Wyatt, how she had helped people with their family histories while volunteering at Upminster Library.
Beatrice, now in her late 60s, had managed to trace her own lineage back to the 18th century and a man called Richard Wyatt, the governor of Fort Marlborough in Sumatra, Indonesia.
“I offered to look into it and see if I could find out more about this man,” explained mum-of-one Debbie.
“She said ‘well, only if you’ve got nothing else on’ and within a couple of weeks I had managed to learn so much.
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“I was shocked to find that he was from Hornchurch where I live.”
Richard Wyatt was born in 1727. His father lived in Hare Street, Hornchurch, and his mother was the daughter of a Romford innkeeper.
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At 18 years old he joined the East India Company and moved to Indonesia where, after 10 years, he married an expatriated widow.
“I highly doubt that he went over there a monk,” laughed Debbie.
“It’s likely that he met an Indonesian women and had a child but the records in Sumatra don’t go back that far so it’s hard to tell, however, this is probably how Beatrice’s family came about.
“Some of Richard Wyatt’s personal papers are at the British Museum so we are hoping to visit to see if he mentions anything about his time in Fort Marlborough before he got married.”
Richard and his wife, Elizabeth, joined their children in England, who had been sent away to go to school, in 1776 when he retired from his role as governor.
The family lived in Langtons House, which is now Havering Registry Office, enjoying a comfortable life accruing land and in 1781 Richard was appointed the High Sheriff of Essex.
With age he began to retire from public life and very little is known about him between 1785 and his death in 1812.
During this time his son, Richard Barnard Wyatt, began to come into his own with a promising cricket career.
He married the daughter of a local aristocrat and the two men, being the most prominent noblemen in the area, took it upon themselves to muster a volunteer cavalry during the Napoleonic wars.
“I couldn’t find a profession for Richard Barnard Wyatt,” said Debbie, a former modern languages teacher.
“His father was a very wealthy and successful man so it looks like the son did very well out of that.”
Shortly after the death of Richard Wyatt senior his son began selling off the land and there is evidence to suggest his widowed mother-in-law accepted liability for a £6,000 loan on his behalf (which is worth approximately £350,000 today).
“It’s unfortunate that a lot of people lost money during the Napoleonic wars,” said Debbie.
“Although I do think the downfall of Richard Barnard Wyatt was also partly due to living beyond his means.
“The next we see of him is when he and his wife are a penniless elderly couple living destitute in Calais in 1832 – the year he died.”
Debbie has lived in Havering for decades and hadn’t heard anything of the Wyatt family before her research.
“It’s a shame that Richard Barnard Wyatt lost everything because there’s probably wonderful portraits of them that we will never see as someone doesn’t know who they are.
“They were a really important family in Hornchurch’s history and I would love to see a ‘Wyatt Street’ one day.”