The Burnham family (late 18th-early 19th centuries)

Most of this page was written by Cathy Soughton

James Burnham (senior), 1733-1803

James’s Burnham ancestors had been attorneys in Buckinghamshire from the mid 17th century, initially living in Long Crendon and subsequently in Aylesbury. One, a Thomas Burnham baptised in 1619 in Long Crendon, emigrated to New England in the 1630s where he settled in Hartford, Connecticut, and purchased a large amount of land in the area.

James Burnham was born on 16 July 1733 and baptised on 23 July 1733 at Aylesbury, the son of John Patten Burnham, an attorney and coroner and his wife Mary, nee Cox. James’s older brother Joseph born in 1729 was also an attorney and practised in Aylesbury. Presumably it was decided that James should move to Winslow and he was clerk to Ferdinand Southam in 1752. Fairly soon after he moved to the town he acquired the copyhold tenancy of Brook Hall.

James married Mary Rose at Ashendon on 29 March 1762. The marriage licence documents show James was then aged 28 and from Winslow and Mary was aged 19. They had 10 children baptised at Winslow between 1763 and 1783 although some died in infancy.

Northampton Mercury, 20 Oct 1798
On Tuesday last an Inquisition was taken at Winslow, in the county of Bucks, before James Burnham, Gent. his Majesty’s Coroner for the said county, on view of the body of Charlotte, the wife of Thomas Kent, of Winslow aforesaid, who died suddenly by the visitation of God.

James was  recorded as an attorney at law at Winslow in Bailey’s British Directory for 1784 (www.Ancestry.co.uk), became Clerk to the Wendover to Buckingham Turnpike Trust in 1787, and was appointed coroner for Buckinghamshire in 1793/4 (National Archives C 202/147/4). His son James Burnham was also an attorney and coroner for Bucks and lived at Winslow. He left a will proved at St Albans in 1837.

James Burnham was buried at Winslow parish church on 9 March 1803. He left a will proved at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury which was dated 7 August 1801 with a codicil dated 14 February 1803 (National Archive, PROB/11/1389). It runs to some 8 pages in total but the main terms were:-

James was evidently a very wealthy man when he died.  It appears the will may have been contested as there are two Chancery Court cases listed in the National Archives catalogue brought by a plaintiff Elizabeth Burnham against various named parties including Joseph Burnham, Joseph Key Bailey and wife, Sarah Burnham, James Burnham, George Nibbs and wife, Elizabeth Burnham spinster and Hector Patten Burnham (refs C 13/35/41, C 13/37/21, not yet seen).  

The following letter was published in the Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, 16 July 1770. The unnamed lawyer of Winslow is almost certainly James Burnham.

SUPPOSING a Widow to live in Buckinghamshire, upon a bargain of Earl V----‘s?
Supposing her to have her bargain well stock’d with sheep, cows, hares, &c., &c., and money, to the amount of several hundred pounds?
Supposing her to marry a man with a small estate of only 10l. a year?
Supposing her, some years after, to give up a sum of money to her husband, to purchase land upon enclosing a common?
Supposing upon this, under a pretence of the love he bore her, he should get a Lawyer at Winslow, to make his will entirely in his wife’s favour, who brought him almost all he had, and gave it to her to keep by her?
And, supposing he afterwards got the same Lawyer, without the least pretence of a provocation, secretly, to make another will in favour of his nephew, leaving his wife only the cloaths on her back, and 10l. a year to live on?
I say, supposing all these things to be true, it is agreed on all hands, that the husband ought to be taken out of his grave, and hanged up by the toes as a terror to others.
Quere, therefore, What should be done to the Lawyer?         Yours &c.  L.  M.
N.B. The spirit of the husband walks already, and terrifies the servants almost out of their wits.

Mary Burnham (widow), 1743-1826

James Burnham’s widow Mary left a will dated 11 August 1823 and proved at the PCC on 23 December 1826, (National Archives, PROB/11/1719); it was much shorter than her husband’s will. The main terms were:

James Burnham jr, 1773-1836

Oxford Journal, 14 July 1798
On the 28th ult. was married, at Bledlow, near Princes Risborough in the County of Bucks, Mr. Barnham, jun. Attorney of Winslow, to Miss Parrott, eldest daughter of Mr. Parrott, of Chearsley, in the same County.

James Burnham jr was baptised at Winslow on 17 June 1773. He was llisted as Coroner, with his address as Market Square, Winslow, in directories of 1824 and 1832. His house was on the site of the present-day TSB Bank, and was demolished in 1891 in order to erect a new building for the Bucks and Oxon Union Bank, which had operated from the house since 1856. He died in 1836, as J.W. Cowley of Buckingham was proposing himself as Coroner following Mr Burnham's death in the Bucks Herald of 18 June. His 8-page will made on 4 Nov 1828 was proved at St Albans on 25 May 1837 (Herts RO, 273AW1 & 14AR273). The main provisions were:

James Burnham was nearly bankrupted in 1819:

Northampton Mercury, 13 Nov 1819
Mr. JAMES BURNHAM’S Affairs.
ALL Persons to whom JAMES BURNHAM, of Winslow, in the County of Buckingham, Gentleman, stands indebted, are requested immediately to send particular Statements of their respective Claims against him, either to Messrs. Box and Parrott, Bankers, Buckingham;  or Mr. Charles Willis, Solicitor, Winslow, in order that they may be inspected, and an Arrangement made for their being discharged.
Winslow, 28th Oct. 1819

"The trustees of Mr James Burnham" were offering property for sale in 1830 (advertised in the Oxford Journal) and 1833. According to an advert in the Bucks Herald (2 March 1833, repeated later), as well as property in Granborough, it included:

Ann Nibbs (nee Burnham), 1777-1836

James and Mary’s daughter Ann Burnham (baptised in 1777 at Winslow) married George Nibbs at Winslow on 24 November 1803. George was a plantation owner in Antigua and George and Ann lived for some of their marriage in Antigua / Tortola. After George died, it appears that Ann moved back to England and went to live with her sister Celia Bailey at the manor house in Bradwell. Ann left a will proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury dated 3 March 1836 (National Archives, PROB 11/1864). The main terms were: 

Ann was buried at Winslow on 13 April 1836. The burial register records that she was of Bradwell, Bucks, and was aged 59.

Of the other children of James sr and Mary Burnham:

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