Ann Ashley

6. The Family of Sotherton Backler, Apothecary, and his wife Ann Ashley

In which we look at the births (and too many deaths) of the children of Sotherton Backler and his wife Ann Ashley, later to become, respectively, Beadle and Butler of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries

This family illustrates the perils of infancy and childhood in 18th century London, and introduces us to some unusual (and unexplained) names.

Sotherton Backler, Citizen and Apothecary

      c. 5 Feb 1703/4, Ashwell, Herts.,  d. 28 April 1763

      m. Ann ASHLEY 5 July 1732 1732 at St Antholin, Budge Row, City of London.  ‘Sotherton Barker [or Backer sic] of St Giles’ Cripplegate London Batch and Ann Ashley of St Olive [sic] Jewry London Spinster married by Licence by Mr Lande.’   Ann Backler died December 1768

Ozell 1733-1733. Little Ozell died of ‘rising lights’, according to the parish register of St Giles Cripplegate in London. ‘Rising lights’ were any obstructive condition of the larynx or trachea (windpipe), characterised by a hoarse, barking cough and difficult breathing, occurring chiefly in infants and children. 

What’s in a name?  Who can explain where the names ‘Ozell’ and ‘Annozella’ came from? There is no sign of these names in Backler families in East Anglia.  Could the names have come down from the Ashley family?

Annozella 1734/5-1736.  Annozella died of smallpox, but perhaps she need not have done so.  By this date, medics had begun ‘variolation’ (inoculation with smallpox virus), a practice which was more widespread on the European continent than in England.  Jenner’s vaccine remained some way off (1795), but although there were hazards in the variolation process (some of those who were inoculated died of the disease, or of infections acquired through the inoculation process), the case fatality rate was 10 times lower than in naturally occurring smallpox .  The practice was slow to catch on in England, and even at the end of the 18th century, the death rate from smallpox in infants was 80%.  There was probably little the Backlers could do to save their small child. 

(source downloaded 19 April 2014:

Sotherton 1737-1737.  It is possible he died of ‘teeth’. There is an entry in the St Giles Cripplegate register for the burial of ‘James Sotherton’, of ‘teeth.  In the absence of any other record for this Sotherton before the christening of ‘our’ Sotherton some years later, one could speculate that this entry refers to this Sotherton – speculation only!

Jane Ozella 1738/9-1741/2  Jane died of consumption.

Ann 1741 – 

      m. John Freeman 12 July 1770 at St Andrew by the Wardrobe/St Ann Blackfriars, witnessed by S Backler and Sarah Rowley. Nothing more is known about Ann and John.

Ozella 1743/4-1745 – died of ‘tooth’

Sotherton  b.  28 July 1746, died 1819 Apothecary

      m. (1) Frances Harris

      m. (2) Hannah Osborne 3 Oct 1782. She died 23 April 1803

Elizabeth 1748/9 –  her fate is not known. It is possible she married.

Samuel 1753-1755 died of measles

In my next blog I will look at Sotherton senior’s rise to the post of Beadle of the Society of Apothecaries.  It is possible that young Sotherton, Ann, and possibly Elizabeth, lived with their parents at the Society, although they may have resided elsewhere with their parents having just an office or apartment from which they carried out their duties in the Society.

4. Sotherton Backler (1704-1763) Apprenticeship and Freedom

220px-Sweedons_passage_grub_street[1]The first Sotherton’s apprenticeship and freedom

In which we take a look at Sotherton Backler’s apprenticeship to Daniel Hanchett, Apothecary of London, and look at the neighbourhood where they lived.  We note Sotherton’s marriage and the births (and, sadly, deaths) of their many children.

In her History of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries (1998, p 194), Penelope Hunting notes that ‘the rising status of apothecaries has been traced to the recruitment in the early 18th century of a ‘high proportion of apprentices who were sons of clergymen’. There was a high value placed at that time on obtaining a good apprenticeship and ensuring a secure trade for such a younger son.

Sotherton was apprenticed  to Apothecary Daniel Hanchett in 1721 and was made ‘free’ of the Society of Apothecaries in 1732.  His apprenticeship would have been served at Hanchett’s premises in Coleman Street, which runs north to south just east of the Guildhall.  Once the apprenticeship was completed,   Sotherton’s address was at nearby Fore Street from 1738-1756. Apprentices needed to be proficient in general knowledge and Latin, and Sotherton would have had practical training in pharmaceutical skills, alongside attending lectures and classes, anatomical dissections, home visits and instruction in botany and chemistry.

Presumably upon completion of his apprenticeship, Sotherton had both a shop and a practice which among other things would have involved tending to the poor of the area. I have found no record to date of his premises or business, but John Strype’s survey of 1720 (updating Stow’s work) says of Cripplegate without the Wall:[1]

‘This is a large Tract of Ground, containing several Streets, and all crowded with Courts and Alleys. The chief are Forestreet, the Postern street, Backstreet in little Moorfields; Moor lane, Grub street, Whitecross street, Redcross street, Beech lane, Golden lane, Barbican, and Jewen street. Of these in Order.  Forestreet, pretty broad, and well inhabited, runneth from the North end of St. Giles Cripplegate Church, unto Moorlane, Eastwards; and then it falls into Postern street, which leadeth to Little Moorfields, against new Bethlem.’

The image above of Sweedon’s Alley, Grub Street is from around 1777, and perhaps illustrates the environment in which Sotherton lived earlier in the century.[2]

Apothecaries of the time had a mixed reputation.  A contemporary document referred to ‘the mere apothecary – a Creature that requires very little Brains’.[3]  Many people were suspicious of the apothecary-doctor, whose potions might poison as much as cure.  The lack of understanding of illness and disease at the time meant the use of traditional herbal (galenical) and other remedies (for instance mercury for venereal disease), which could do as much (or more) harm as good.  Yet the public sought out apothecaries, often because most people could not afford the expense of the university-educated doctor.  

Sotherton’s marriage to Ann Ashley in 1732 resulted in the birth of 9 children, but the parish records of St Giles Cripplegate show that they were mostly short-lived.  How sad it must have been for the apothecary father to be unable to avert the deaths of his children from ‘rising lights’ (any obstructive condition of the larynx or trachea (windpipe), characterised by a hoarse, barking cough and difficult breathing, occurring chiefly in infants and children); small pox; consumption; ‘tooth’; and measles.  Of the nine children born, only two (Ann and the second Sotherton) and perhaps a third (Elizabeth) survived into adulthood.

[2]  From Smith’s Ancient Topography of London, 1815, said to be drawn around 1791, the building taken down in 1805.

[3] Cited in Penelope J. Corfield. From Poison Peddlers to Civic Worthies: the reputation of the apothecaries in Georgian England. Social History of Medicine22 (2009), pp 1-21.  The quote is taken from: R. Campbell. The London Tradesman: Being a Compendious View of all the trades, professions, arts.  London, 1747.


2. Discovering the Backlers of Apothecaries Hall


Apothecaries Hall

Apothecaries Hall

My first blog about the Backlers – ‘Samuel Backler, Vicar of Ashwell, Herts’ – set out my knowledge to date about my 6x great grandfather, Samuel Backler. This blog describes how I discovered his identity, and also that of four of his descendants – all apothecaries ‘of Apothecaries Hall’.

Ever since my mother and I had found some precious marriage certificates at the old family history centre in London’s St Catherine House, I had known that my 3x great grandfather was Samuel Backler, who in 1810 had married Mary Pellatt, daughter of the famous glassmaker Apsley Pellatt. Searches on the surname ‘Backler’ in The Times of London at around that date showed that, in advertising his wares, Samuel described himself as being ‘of Apothecaries Hall’, with cures and treatments available from his elaboratory in Bedford Street, Covent Garden. I knew nothing about apothecaries, nor about City Livery companies. I had a treat in store.

Backlers at the Society of Apothecaries
When I mustered the courage in 2009 to enquire about Samuel from the Society’s archivist, I was delighted to received the following reply from the then archivist:

`I write in reply to your email enquiry … concerning your ancestor Samuel Backler. I don’t think you realise that he was a third (and last) generation Backler connected with, and a member of, the Society of Apothecaries. His grandfather So(u)therton Backler had been Beadle and his father (same name) the Clerk. I don’t think Samuel completed his apprenticeship and so was not technically a qualified apothecary…I think it would be best if you came to the Hall to consult the records yourself …’

My first visit to Apothecaries Hall was like stumbling into an ancestral (and historical) wonderland. There was information about four Backlers, from the so-called ‘Cecil Wall cards’, so named after the Clerk to the Society who sometime in the early 20th century indexed references to the Society’s members from documents such as Court Minutes, apprentice registers and much more.

Two Sotherton Backlers, plus John and Samuel
Sotherton senior’s card took me back two generations from Samuel, and provided invaluable information in several respects. The card showed that the first Sotherton (1704 -1763) was the son of the Rev. Samuel Backler, of Ashwell, Herts and that Sotherton was apprenticed to Apothecary Daniel Hanchett in 1721. Sotherton was made ‘free’ of the Society of Apothecaries in 1732, was elected Beadle in 1757, and died in 1763. His wife Ann (nee Ashley) had become Butler on his appointment as Beadle, and she continued in this role – and was also a Society pensioner – until her death in December 1768.

The Beadle’s son, also Sotherton, had become deputy Clerk in 1802 and was Clerk from 1806-1816, when, according to the notes, ‘the Society presented him with a piece of plate on his resignation, value 50 gns’. He attended the bicentenary dinner in 1817 as the Navy Accountant, and was elected Secretary to the Friendly Medical Society which post he held from 1799-1816.

The second Sotherton’s son Samuel (1784-1870) had been apprenticed in 1800 to Thomas Hall, but on his Master’s death, Samuel was released from his indentures and in 1805 gained the freedom of the Society by Patrimony. The records show that he was in the service of the Laboratory Stock, established many years previously to oversee and control the quality of the manufacture of chemical and plant-based medicines. In 1843, he withdrew from the Society – I suspect due to his waning fortunes, which had included bankruptcy as a tobacconist in 1831.

These three men were my 5x, 4x, and 3x great grandfathers.

But there was a fourth Backler – John Backler (c. 1780-1846), the second Sotherton’s son by his first marriage (and therefore Samuel’s half brother). John had been apprenticed to his father Sotherton, and further research through other sources showed that he had a troubled career, shortly after his father’s death in 1819 having to go to Paris to avoid court proceedings over his business dealings.

Armed with this information, I could investigate further the lives and careers of these four apothecaries – a topic about which I knew very little!

In my next blog I will look at the life and times of the first Sotherton Backler, and explore just what was meant in his role as ‘Beadle’ to the Society. After that I will look at the second (surviving) Sotherton who became first, Deputy Clerk, and then Clerk, from 1806-1816, and his involvement with arrangements for the Society’s participation in Admiral Lord Nelson’s funeral procession on the River Thames in 1806.

Further ahead, I will look at a trade issue arising in correspondence by the Society with the Army Medical Board in 1810-1811, concerning, among other matters, the quality of Peruvian Bark (or Jesuits’ Bark, or cinchona), and the coincidence of timing with the trade of the afore-mentioned Samuel Backler, my 3x great grandfather. 

In all of these blogs I will also describe what I know of these men’s families, finishing my stories of the Backlers with a look at the career of the 19th century cleric, Sotherton Backler, and that of his half brother, John Backler, apothecary.