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 (, 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). See 19 Market Square (which James senior handed over to James junior in 1798). 

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

National Archives, CP5/132/16: Articles of clerkship of James Burnham jr to James Burnham sr, 27 July 1789

Articles of Agreement indented had made concluded and agreed upon the twenty seventh day of July in the twenty ninth year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord George the third by the Grace of God of Great Britain France and Ireland King Defender of the Faith and so forth And in the year of Our Lord one Thousand seven hundred and Eighty nine Between James Burnham the Elder of Winslow in the County of Bucks Gentleman of the one part and James Burnham the younger of Winslow aforesaid Gentleman (Son of the said James Burnham the elder) of the other part Whereas the said James Burnham the Elder for and in consideration of the natural Love and Affection which he hath and beareth for the said James Burnham the younger his said Son and for other considerations him thereunto moving He the said James Burnham the Elder hath taken the said James Burnham the younger to be his Clerk with him to dwell for the Space of five years to be accounted from the day of the date hereof Now these presents Witness that the said James Burnham the younger hath and by these presents doth put and place himself to and with the said James Burnham the Elder and with him to serve as his articled Clerk for the term or space of five years from the day of the date hereof during all which term he said James Burnham the younger as such shall faithfully and diligently serve him the said James Burnham the Elder his Secrets keep and his lawful and rightful commands obey and perform and shall not depart or absent himself from the Service of the said James Burnham the Elder without his leave during the said term nor unduly or negligently spend or waste any of his \said/ Father’s money Goods or Chattels or the money Goods or Chattels of any person or persons which shall be in the custody of or intrusted with him by his said Father or that shall be delivered or put in the Hands of the said James Burnham the younger or come to his Hands by his said Father’s order or Appointment or in any other manner whatsoever on his Account during the said term but shall and will from time to time during the said term well and truly account for deliver and pay over to his said Father his Executors Administrators or Assigns all and every such Sum or Sums of money Stamps Deeds Writings and other things which the said James Burnham the younger shall receive have or take of or for or be intrusted with for or on account of his said Father And also shall in all things demean and behave himself in all  respects towards his said Father as a good true and faithful Clerk during all the said term (if they shall both so long live) And the said James Burnham the Elder in consideration of the true and faithful Service so to be done and performed by the said James Burnham his Son Doth promise and agree that he the said James Burnham the Elder shall \and will/ from time to time and at all times during the said term of five years in the best manner he can or is able well and sufficiently instruct teach and inform the said James Burnham the younger as his Clerk in the Business and practice of an Attorney in His Majesty’s Court of Common Pleas at Westminster which he now uses and in the Manor method and reasons of doing the same And that at the End and Expiration of the said term of five years or whenever afterwards the said James Burnham the younger shall apply and request of him the said James Burnham the Elder he shall and will at his own proper costs and charges use his best Endeavours to procure him the said James Burnham the younger to be admitted an Attorney in the said Court of Common Pleas And that he James Burnham the Elder during all the said term of five years shall and will find and provide the said James Burnham the younger with Meat Drink Washing Lodging and all other necessaries meet and convenient In Witness whereof the Parties first above named unto these Articles of Agreement indented interchangeably have put their Hands and Seals the day and year first above written
James Burnham Senior [signature] James Burnham Junior [signature]
Sealed and Delivered (being first duly stamped) in the presence of Thos Rawbone [signature] R Reading [signature]

The bundle of documents includes James Burnham jr's enrolment as an attorney at the Court of Common Pleas (14 May 1804), with a statement signed by James jr that he served his father until the latter's death in 1803. Richard Reading was the Burnhams' clerk.

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
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

On 25 June 1830 (as reported at the manor court), James Burnham handed all his property over to trustees: George Parrott of Buckingham banker & William James Bailey of Shenley esq."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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Copyright 6 October, 2023