William Jermy's Will

There is some speculation that William's will, dated 12 December 1751, was forged by Isaac Preston, the barrister brother of his second wife Francis. The wording of William's will and the later will of Isaac Preston are remarkably similar. There is also the strange occurrence of two codicils to William's will dated before the "final" will presented for probate. According to the probate statement these were found by his widow after his death and presented to the probate court - possibly to annoy her brother, with whom she was supposedly at loggerheads?

It is clear that William was very ill at the time of his marriage to Frances Preston on 7 October 1751 at Beeston St Lawrence, Norfolk, and doubtless could be easily coerced to sign the document prepared by his new brother-in-law. After all he only lived for three and a half months after marrying Francis, dying on 21 January 1752 at Craven Buildings, Craven Street, London.


I should be buried very privately in the chancel of the parish church of Aylsham, Norfolk
To be carried to my grave by the six poorest men in Aylsham to whom I give each one guinea
All my just debts and legacys to be paid within twelve months of my decease
My dear friend Richard Fuller of Yarmouth £1000 and all sums of money due to me by him; my worthy friend Mr Jermy Harcourt of Norwich £800, both to purchase some plate with my arms engraved
My trustee Henry Palmer Watts Esq £30
My mother in law (step mother) Mrs Jermy £50 for mourning
My friends Isaac Preston Esq £50; Mrs Horne, wife of Samuel Horne Esq £50; Mrs Boehn, wife of Thomas Boehn Esq £50; Thomas Preston £50, all to purchase a piece of plate
My friend Rt. Hon. The Lord Viscount Strange 20 guineas
My friend Rt. Hon. Viscount Gallwey 20 guineas
My friend William Windham of Felbrigg, Norfolk 20 guineas
Miss Ann Harcourt £10 10s and a diamond mourning ring
Leonard Buxton Esq my gold watch and chain
Mr John Jermy of Yarmouth 6 guineas per annum paid quarterly during his natural life
Francis Jermy of North Walsham £10
Mr Timothy Hastings £10
If I die without issue I give Bishop Hall's medallion to Emmanuel College, Cambridge and the said Bishop's picture in miniature
Jacob Preston Esq my nephew, swords, fire arms, horse, furniture
Governors of the Hospital for Foundlings and Deserted Children £100
Twenty guineas for piece of plate for use in Combination Room in Caius College, Cambridge, engraved with all my arms and quarterings. The choice I leave to my friend James Burrough Esq
The rector of Bayfield my silver tobacco box and Moidore
My God daughter Charlotte, daughter of Sir Horatio Pettus Bart £100
My God daughter Charlotte Mallinson, daughter of ---- Mallinson of Penrith, Cumberland £100
My God son Thomas, son of the Rev. Mr White, Rector of Bayfield £100
£150 for monument to me and relations buried in Aylsham
To little Hannah Wrench, who lives with my (step) mother, £10 towards binding her out as an apprentice
Lord Hobart, his grandfather Judge Hobart's picture
My own servant £10 over his wages and what wearing apparell my executers shall judge proper
Stocks, plates, pictures, furniture, books, coaches, chariots, horses, goods, chattels and other personal estate to my dear wife

The cash bequests totalled approximately £2 700. Of the various other bequests, only the Synod of Dort Gold Medallion, originally belonging to Bishop Hall, and a piece of silver plate presented to St Michael, Aylsham are still known to exist. The engraved silver plate at Caius College, Cambridge has apparently been lost or stolen.

Terms of the Will

By his will William Jermy left the Bayfield Hall property to his wife Frances Jermy (nee Preston) for life
A sum of £5 000 was to be raised from the estate for Frances Jermy if there was no issue from her marriage with William Jermy
The rest of the Jermy estates were to pass to Jacob Preston, the eldest son of Isaac Preston (and nephew of Frances Preston-Jermy), and failing any male issue from Jacob, to Thomas Preston of London, the brother of Isaac Preston and Frances Preston-Jermy
His library of books were to be kept together, and not sold or disposed of
The will also stated that any one who took possession of the estates and hereditaments mentioned in it should take and continue to use the surname and bear the coat of arms of William Jermy
In the event of Jacob and Thomas Preston dying without issue, the Jermy estate was to pass to the male person of the name Jermy as should be nearest related to the testator in blood, and his heirs and assigns for ever

The Preston Family of Beeston Hall

There are a number of pages dedicated to the Preston family, as well as a comprehensive Preston family tree on this website, but for clarity, the main Preston protaganists in the William Jermy will saga are discussed here.

Jacob Preston (1643 - 1753) and his wife Elizabeth (nee Perry) had six children; three of whom are relevant to this story: The eldest son Isaac (1710 - 1768) was a barrister of Beeston St Lawrence and Steward of Great Yarmouth between 1749 and 1768. The second son Thomas (1712 - 1773) was a merchant living in London, and the youngest child was daughter Frances Preston (1724 - 1791), who married William Jermy on 7 October 1751.

The barrister Isaac Preston married twice. Firstly to Alice Durrant in 1739. They had four children, including the eldest Elizabeth (1738 - 1805), and their only son Jacob (1741 - 1787). Isaac married secondly Hester Pettingale in 1753. They also had four children including Isaac (junior) (1754 - 1796), Thomas (1757 - 1807) and George (1760 - 1837).

The eldest daughter Elizabeth married Henry Hulton in 1766 and Jacob married Mary Edwards in 1772. The half brothers Isaac junior and Thomas did not marry; Isaac junior became a barrister, and Thomas was an engineer in the East India Civil Service, who drowned at sea. The youngest half brother George entered the church and became the rector of Beeston St Lawrence. He married Henrietta Bedingfield in 1788 and they had seven children, including the eldest Isaac Preston (1789 - 1848).

What actually happened to the Jermy Estates?

As is discussed elsewhere, the barrister Isaac Preston (senior) was heavily involved in the legal arrangements of William Jermy, and appears to have been the main author of William's unusual will (indeed, William Jermy's will (1751) and that of Isaac Preston (1764) are remarkably similar in wording). Isaac was anxious to keep the Jermy estates (which comprised property in about twenty Norfolk parishes) in his own family, so in 1754 he approached the two Jermys named in William Jermy's will. He first signed a bargain and sale with Francis Jermy, an elderly lawyer of North Walsham, who made over his claim for £20. Armed with Francis Jermy's signed deed, he concluded a similar bargain and sale with John Jermy (a closer relation to William Jermy, from the Gunton line) for the same paltry consideration of £20 - probably much less than a hundredth of the value of the Jermy estate, but a princely sum to the labourer. Isaac Preston senior died on 9 May 1768, leaving his estates (and the Jermy estates, if the original recepients Jacob and Thomas should have no issue) to his children Isaac junior, Thomas and George.

Things then started to go awry for the Preston family. The primary beneficiary of William Jermy's will, Jacob, the eldest son and heir of Isaac Preston senior died on 23 October 1787 without issue, thus making the older Preston line extinct. The secondary beneficiary of William's will, Thomas Preston (Jacob's uncle) had pre-deceased Jacob in 1773. So, according to William's will, the entire Jermy estate should now have passed to the male person of the name Jermy as should be nearest related to the testator in blood.

It appears that there were some disagreements between the children of the two marriages of Isaac Preston senior, because his eldest son and heir (and heir of William Jermy) Jacob Preston left the Beeston Hall estates to his full sister Elizabeth and her husband Thomas Hulton, provided her husband changed his name to Preston. The lease to the Jermy estates were left to his aunt (and widow of William Jermy) Frances for life (she died in 1791). Jacob Preston also left the Jermy collection of books from Bayfield Hall to Frances Jermy (and noting they being left to those who may be entitled to the Estate). There was a great deal of litigation about the will from Jacob's half brothers in a attempt to inherit everything for themselves. These failed and Jacob's will was finally probated four years after his death.

Elizabeth Preston's husband Thomas Hulton did change his surname to Preston, and their eldest son Thomas was created the first Preston Baronet of Beeston Hall on 30 May 1815. The Beeston Hall estate remained in the family until the 1990's.

As mentioned above, Isaac Preston's (senior) will of 1768 effectively usurped the Jermy estates and left them to his son Isaac Preston junior, the Recorder of King's Lynn. Isaac junior died without issue in 1796, leaving his youngest brother Rev. George Preston to inherit what remained of the Jermy estates, including Stanfield Hall. George Preston made extensive additions to Stanfield Hall, and on his death in 1837 it passed to his eldest son Isaac Preston, the Recorder of Norwich.

It should be noted that at no time between 1752 and 1838 did any of the Prestons who had taken control of the Jermy estates actually adopt the Jermy surname and coat of arms, as stipulated in William Jermy's will.

William Jermy's will required at least £2 700 cash to pay for his immediate bequests, and £5 000 for his widow Frances Jermy (nee Preston). In addition to this, the will of his first wife Elizabeth Jermy (nee Richardson) had stipulated that a sum of £8 000 should be paid, out of the rents due to her from her previous estates, to her friend Venesandra England. It is evident that the various estates could not easily support the total sum of £15 700 being taken out of them because Isaac Preston and his descendants made every effort to avoid paying the bequests to Frances Jermy and Venesandra England. Both of their subsequent husbands had to sue in Chancery for the money. John Mallison also claimed against the Jermy (Preston) estates once it became clear that his son George England Mallison was in fact the heir of William Jermy of Bayfield!