Sotherton Backler

34. Sotherton, Suffolk – the origins of a name?

In which – after a break for a wonderfully long, hot, summer – we visit the tiny hamlet of Sotherton in Suffolk – surely the place for whom our many Sotherton Backlers were named?

The easy part of tracing ‘our’ Backlers descended from Rev Samuel Backler, of Ashwell, Hertforshire, has been the naming of successive offspring as ‘Sotherton’.  As far as I can see, there have been only two other folk with that forename – Sotherton Nathaniel Micklethwait, born in 1824 in Norfolk; and Sotherton Wadham, born in 1881, and shown in the 1881 census as living at Sotherton Farm, Sotherton. There seem also to have been a few with ‘Sotherton’ as their middle name.  And, Sotherton occasionally appears as a surname, for instance the 1674 Hearth Tax returns for Henry Sotherton in Lackford in Suffolk.  A Nicholas Sotherton was Mayor of Norwich in 1539.  What were the origins of his surname?

Sotherton church 6On a chilly, rather gloomy early evening this past May, I was fortunate to be taken to visit the tiny, historic place of Sotherton, near to our holiday destination of Southwold in Suffolk.  We missed the turning off the main road. Backtracking up a narrow lane, passing a few old houses, we came upon St Andrews Church, more or less in the middle of nowhere, with just a house alongside and fields as far as one could see.  The church was locked, and it was too late to seek out the key.  So our view was of the mid-19th century exterior, constructed with materials from an earlier version.  This rather nice website describes it well:

Sotherton itself is a ‘dispersed’ village with a current population of about 70, and never with more than about 180 inhabitants. It appeared in the Domesday Book, and is home to Sotherton Hall, the late 16th/early 17th century farmhouse in which Sotherton Wadham (see above) lived.

There is something moving about being in or near the place of one’s ancestors from hundreds of years ago.  Rural Suffolk may be one of the less-changed parts of the country, and there is no doubt that Backlers lived in or near to this place.  Of course, I have not yet linked ‘our’ Backlers to those of earlier generations, but given the very few early examples of the surname – and almost all of them from East Anglia – I remain convinced that the links are there.  Seeing this lovely church in a beautiful setting was a real treat.Sotherton church 4

Sotherton church 3


12. Sotherton Backler (1746-1819) – the last years

In which we consider events at the Society of Apothecaries during Sotherton’s reign as Clerk, and record his demise in 1819.

Sotherton Backler was elected Clerk to the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries on 15 January 1806, just days after the funeral of Admiral Lord Nelson (see previous blog).  In this role he administered the workings of the Society, in particular recording proceedings in his immaculate hand in the Minute Books of the Court of Assistants.  His years as Clerk were to be of great importance for the Society.

The history of apothecaries as a trade or profession was long one of rivalry between different types of practitioner, ranging from physicians and surgeons to chemists and druggists, and from tradesmen to medical practitioners.  The rivalry with the Physicians was resolved at least in law by the case of apothecary William Rose in 1704. The House of Lords over-ruled his conviction for treating a butcher name Searle. This established the right of apothecaries to practice medicine, and changed the role of the Society from one of subservience to the physicians to a more complicated multi-purpose function of both professional and trade regulation, as well as trading in its own right.  This dual nature was to persist right through to the Apothecaries Act of 1815.

sotherton backler TIMES 1815 soc apothIn the period leading up to the passage of the Act, Sotherton, among others, was engaged in considerable negotiation and lobbying. The Society, initially reluctant to accept change, in the end took on the role of formalising a curriculum and overseeing examinations which, along with apprenticeship, attendance at lectures on such topics as anatomy and physiology, and other matters, led to the Licentiateship of the Society of Apothecaries, precursor to what we now know as General Practice.  (The extract right from The Times of 21 July 1815, announces the changes which the Act brought.) At the same time, chemists and druggists, who during the latter part of the 18th century had begun to usurp the dispensing role of apothecaries, began to formalise their own training and qualifications, resulting in the establishment of the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain in 1841.

Despite the formalising of apothecaries’ education and training, a sore point remained their inability to charge for medical advice or attendance – a hangover from earlier days of dispute with the physicians.  Apothecaries could only charge for medicines, until a court case in around 1830 ruled that they could also charge for visits and medical advice, thus reducing their previous tendency to over-prescribe medicines in order to cover their costs for practising, in effect, as general practitioners.

The Society’s records yield evidence that Sotherton Backler lived at Apothecaries Hall during at least part of his tenure as Clerk.  His wife Hannah had died in April 1803, leaving Sotherton with a large number of surviving children presumably still at home.  It seems likely that some of the older siblings would have taken charge of the household and care of the family.  On 20 March 1807 the Society was in receipt of a letter from the Secretary of the London Bridge Water Works, revealing the discovery by the Collector of the Water Rents that there might be a supply to Apothecaries’ Hall over and above that already known, ‘to the Dwelling House of Mr. Backler, for which he [the rent collector] has received an Annual Payment of £1-8-0…’  The letter asserted that additional water was now found to be supplied to ‘a large Back and two Cisterns’, estimated value of £10 a year.  The Board suggested a payment of £200 to cover arrears of water supply for an unknown period!  However, by May, it had been decided on further examination that there was no service of water other than to Mr Backler’s house, and there the matter rested, useful indeed in our ascertaining Sotherton Backler’s residence at least at that time.

And so his duties – and presumably residence – continued until 0n 23 August 1816, Sotherton Backler ‘resigned his situation as Clerk to the Society, but was requested by the Court to continue in it until a proper person is chosen in his room…’  By the 30th of October, this had been achieved, and ‘it was resolved that the Thanks of this Court be given to Mr Sotherton Backler, for his faithful and diligent discharge of the Duties of Clerk of this Society for many years past, and as a small testimony of their perfect approbation of his services, he be presented with a piece of Plate of the value of Fifty Guineas.’

rubbing 18 June 2012Hannah and Sotherton Backler and Mary SudlowIt is presumed that Sotherton then ceased residence at the Society.  On 7 January 1817, the Court Minutes noted a payment to S. Backler for coals, of £9 – 14s – 0d.

Sotherton died on 12 September 1819 in Kentish Town, and is buried with his wife Hannah and grand daughter Mary Sudlow at Bunhill Fields Burial Ground. The death duty registers show that he died intestate – unfortunately for family historians.  (Death Duty Register IR27. Register October 1819, p. 10 Ref: Vol 2, Folio 392.  IR27_28_018[1]) Administration was to his oldest son by his first marriage, about whom we will hear in later blogs: John Backler, 19 Golden Square, Westminster.

A touching endnote was the application by John to the Court of Assistants on the 26th of October 1819, ‘soliciting the Benevolence [of the Court] in favor of two daughters of the late Mr Backler and the same having been read and taken into consideration, Resolved that the sum of Fifty Pounds be given to Frances Backler [1779-1833] and Anna [Hannah] Backler [1780-1870], daughters of the late Mr. Sotherton Backler in equal shares between them.  On 21 December 1819, the Court Minutes note that letters of thanks were received from both daughters and John Backler.

And there ends the direct association of the Backler family with the Society of Apothecaries.  In subsequent blogs we will first trace the life and times of the two apothecary sons of Sotherton – the above-named John Backler, and his half-brother (my 3x great grandfather), Samuel Backler. We will then look at other descendants of Sotherton Backler.


In which we look at the role of ‘Beadle’ in the City Livery Companies, and consider the Society’s concerns about this office some years after Sotherton’s death.


Sotherton Backler was elected Beadle (or Bedel) to the Society on the quarterly Court Day, 13 October 1757.  He succeeded the well-known apothecary, Mr John Pocock, who had resigned his position as Bedel on his appointment as Dispenser to the Royal Hospital at Greenwich.  Pocock’s wife, who had been Butler to the Society, also resigned her position, paving the way for Sotherton’s wife Ann to be appointed Butler, ‘in her roome’.[1]

On the day of the election of the Backlers to their new roles, among those on the Court of Assistants was Mr. Daniel Hanchett, with whom Sotherton had served his apprenticeship. Hanchett became Renter Warden in 1759, Upper Warden in 1760, and Master in 1761 – so former Master and Apprentice would have had a very different relationship during this period as a different kind of Master, and Beadle.

I think it likely that Sotherton and Ann lived in the Hall during their time as Bedel and Butler. Court Minutes state:

‘Ordered that the Fixtures left by Mr Pocock the late Beadle in his House amounting to £6 – 7 – 0 be bought by the Company for the use of the present Beadle and that Mr Pocock be paid £2-4-0 towards the repairs done by him to the said House, when he was chosen Beadle, as also £3 for the three Quarters Allowance for a suit of Cloaths, due when he resigned his place.’[2]

 Sotherton and Ann’s daughter Ann would have been about 16, and not yet married to John Freeman; young Sotherton would have been only 11 and attending St Paul’s School, conveniently around the corner from Apothecaries’ Hall.  If still surviving, Elizabeth would have been about 9.

What was the Bedel?

For someone not familiar with the workings of the City Livery Companies, the role of the Beadle was something of a mystery to me. According to the website of the Beadles of London:

The Livery Companies, as they evolved, needed a point of contact between the Master, Wardens, and Court of Assistants and the Livery in general. They therefore appointed (and paid for) a Beadle, who took care of the Company’s meeting place (‘Hall’), called the Court members and/or Livery together on behalf of the Master, and enforced any disciplinary measures decided by the Court.

The Beadle would also find suitable apprentices, and would organise the social and ceremonial functions. He was, in summary, a policeman, an almoner, a friend, social worker and communicator.

He would be issued with a Staff of Office, often wrongly called a mace, with which to protect the Master and enforce discipline. The Staff is usually a tall one so that it could be used as a rallying point at Common Hall etc. when the Livery was summoned to “Attend upon the Master”.  (

I was interested to find that in 1804 – 38 years after Sotherton’s death – the Court of the Society of Apothecaries heard a report of the Committee which had been set up at the request of the then Beadle, Frederick Kanmacher, to look at the duties of the Beadle.[3]  Kanmacher had asked for an increase in his emoluments and for an assistant in performing his duties.  The report sheds light on the role of a ‘Beadle’.

Mr Kanmacher had been Beadle for almost 30 years, having assumed office some ten years after Sotherton Snr’s death. His conduct and demeanor had been ‘uniformly attentive and respectful’.  The Committee had considered the duties of the Beadle to be [my bullets]:

  • ‘to receive and carefully lay before the master and Wardens whatever Precepts may be addressed to the Company
  • ‘to deliver Summonses for Attendance to the Members personally
  • ‘to attend on the General and Private Courts of the Society and to introduce such Persons as have Transactions therein
  • ‘to attend all Meetings of the Society whether collectively assembled or held in Committee and deputations, and to take and carry into Effect whatever Directions & Orders, The Court or the Master or Wardens may think proper to confide to his Care.’

‘The Committee likewise deem his Residence to be requisite & indispensably necessary in the Apartments which are allowed for his use, that Applications or correspondences connected with the Interests of the Company immediate or eventual may be received with Certainty and delivered with Care to the person concerned.

‘As your Beadle unquestionably is an Officer of much Responsibility and his Notoriety is acknowledged in the municipal Concerns and Arrangements of the Corporation of London, it is of further regard that he should be a Person of Decorous Manners and of Gentlemanly Deportment.

 ‘… Duties of the Beadle are so obviously indentified [sic] with the Respectability and Interests of the Society …’

Given all of the above, the Committee had gone on to examine the annual average fees/duties of the Beadle over the past 5 years.  They showed a range of fees and emoluments, which could change from year to year, and which were accompanied by a Salary of just £20.  The income was divided into categories which can be summarised as:

Customary and ancient fees of right, in 1799 totalling £27 5s, for attendance at Private and General Courts, Bindings, Admissions to Freedom or Livery or Court; attendances at the Guildhall and St Paul’s; Garden and other Committees; General and Private Herbarizings; Botanical Excursions; Master’s Day; Lord Mayor’s Day; Searches; and Examinations of Dispensers.

Optional payments included £24 3s as annual fees from Members of the Society

Salary and Laboratory gratuities included a gratuity from the Laboratory Stock [Company], £33 12 s for ‘providing assistants’; £9 19s 6d for ‘Appraisements’; Salary £20; and ‘attendance in the Navy Counting House’, £60 4s 6d, this last said to be a one-off emolument, not to be repeated.

The total of all of these was £182 11s.

 Two types of income caused the Committee particular concern. The first was the ‘optional fees’ from members of the Society, about which the Committee said it was ‘Disgraceful in the Beadle and discreditable to the Company’ and should never have been permitted and ought to be abolished forthwith.  The second was the payment regarding provision of assistants and making appraisements.  The Committee said: ‘This Emolument is presumed to arise from concerns not identified with the Company’s transactions. If this Supposition is correct the Company without manifest Impropriety cannot avail themselves of the Fruits of an Industry unconnected with their Bedle’s duty.’

 Given all this, the Committee concluded that an annual salary should be paid to the Beadle, as follows:

 ‘So far from the Beadle’s Emolument having kept pace with the prodigious advance of all the Necessaries of Life within the last Twenty five Years, it is a Fact that the Profits of the Office have been considerably diminished with that Period…The committee report that the Duties of Attendance of the present Beadle justly deserve to be compensated by an annual Emolument of One Hundred and Twenty pounds…and that the Beadle be restrained from accepting Gratuity or tips from Members of the Society without seeking permission from the Court or Master and Wardens.’

All this was accepted by the Court and by Mr. Kanmacher, these proceedings being overseen and written up by the new Deputy Clerk, Sotherton Backler, son of the Beadle of that name.  How much of the above would have been relevant 35 years previously remains open to question, but the broad outline of duties and the many attendances required of the Beadle would no doubt have been similar.

Check out this website for a summary of the role of a modern-day Beadle:

 Sotherton Backler’s death; Ann remains butler

Courrt Minutes of 28 April 1863 report the death of the Beadle, and the majority election of his successor, Richard Reynell.  Ann Backler had petitioned the Court to remain Butler, and this was granted. She was to have a salary of £6 per year and ‘be admitted to the first vacant Pension’.  The Society had a fixed number of pensions at its disposal, and Ann Backler would have had to wait until one of these came free.  Her term as Butler ended with her death, reported in the Court Minutes of 17 December, 1868.

With Ann’s death we pause to allow Sotherton Jnr to become a member of the Society, and then Deputy Clerk and Clerk.  In my next blog I will introduce him and his rise to the role of Clerk. 


[1]Minute Book, Court of Assistants, 27 September 1757.

[2]Ibid., 16 March 1758

[3][3]The following discussion about the Beadle’s role and remuneration is drawn from Court Minutes, 8200/9,  22 August 1804, pp 393-398.

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.

1. Samuel Backler, Vicar of Ashwell, Herts


In which I  give some information about Samuel Backler of Ashwell, Hertfordshire ([?]1662 – 1720), his marriage and children; and then pose some questions about his origins. 

In my next blogs I will trace the life and times of the many men named Sotherton Backler, who, apart from the cleric son Samuel, are the descendants about whom I have documented evidence. 

Samuel BACKLER – my 6x great grandfather – died in Ashwell Herts in 1620 (the parish church of St Mary is in the photo).  He was buried on September 5th. He was ordained deacon (Lincoln) June, 1683, then was Vicar of Newnham, Herts, 1684-1713,  Curate of Astwick, Beds, 1697-1701, serving as Vicar of Ashwell and schoolmaster there from 1713 until his death.  Sadly, his records on the Church of England database do not give his father’s name.  Nor do those of Christ’s College, Cambridge, whose records show:
Name: Samuel Backler
College: CHRIST’S
Matric. sizar from CHRIST’S, Michs. 1678; B.A. 1679-80; M.A. 1683.

At London’s St Gregory by St Paul:

‘Samuel Backler of the County of Harford Clerk to Mary Howorth of St Botolph Aldersgate by License. Marryed 4 January 1686′.  (Ancestry features in its London Metropolitan Archives – LMA – collection, a marriage bond signed by Sa Backler and Jo Somerscales in its marriage bonds and allegations collections. It is in Latin and seems pretty undecipherable – any Latin specialists out there?)

On the same day, Elizabeth Howorth of St Botolph Aldersgate was married to John Somerscales of St Michel Wood Street

In November 1686, Mrs Margaret Howorth had been buried in woollen in Newnham.  Was she related to Margaret and Elizabeth?

The births (and deaths) of the Backler children

Samuel and Mary had nine children, many of whom did not survive infancy.  As vicar, he had the sad task of burying 4 of his infant children.  The family comprised:

Mary Backler c. 27 December 1687 [her fate is not known]

Ann Backler christened 5 April 1689, buried August 1689 in Newnham

Samuel Backler c. 1690.  Educated at Ashwell School, he also attended Christ’s College Cambridge, matriculating in 1710, and receiving his BA in 1713-14.   According to Alumni Cantabrigiensis, he was ordained Deacon, St Mary Aldermary and Priest Sep 22 1717,  Lambeth Parish Church. He then became Vicar of Lowesby, Leics, 23 Sep 1717, Curate Rearsby, Leics. 5 June 1719, succeeding his father in 1720 as Vicar of Ashwell, Herts.  He moved on 17 Feb 1728 to be Rector at Battlesden Beds., from which he is said to have resigned in 1733.  No further information is known of him – did he marry? When and where did he die?  Did he emigrate?  Send word!

John Backler christened 2 December 1692, buried 26 December 1692 in woollen, in Newnham, Herts

Anne Backler christened 1694, buried on 12 July 1694 in Newnham, Herts

Anne Backler christened 1698 [her fate is not known]

John Sotherton Backler christened 4 August 1699 – buried 13 August 1699.  This is the first known use of the name ‘Sotherton’ in this family.  Was it a geographical association with Sotherton, Suffolk (see below)?

Sotherton Backler (my 5x great grandfather) christened 5 February 1703/4.  Much, much more about him and his descendants to come in future blogs!

John Backler christened 19 July 1706 [his fate is not known]

Mary (Howorth) Backler was buried on 1 September 1728 in Ashwell.

Some questions to ponder

Was Samuel Backler, Clerk, the son of Samuel Backler and Ann Ede, who married in Huntingdon in April 1660, and whose son Samuel was born on 13 April 1662 and christened in Huntingdon on 30 April 1662?  The dates seem possible – BUT there were quite a few ‘Samuel Backler’s’ around at the time.  How can we be sure this is the right one?

A Mrs Anne Backler, widow, was buried in Ashwell on 31 May, 1716, in woollen, in ‘ye 87 year of her age’.  This extra information is highlighted in the entry written by Samuel Backler, vicar.  Could this have been his mother, Ann Ede?

How did  Samuel Backler (Clerk’s) father Samuel – if, indeed, that is his father – link in with the various Backler families in East Anglia in the 16th and 17th centuries?  For instance, the family of Richard Backler in Dedham; or John Backler, Grocer, of Stratford? Or, as one record suggests, was he the nephew of Samuel Backler, of Whatfield, who was ejected in 1662 and died in East Bergholt? Whose family was he part of? 

Is it too much of a coincidence to link the name ‘Sotherton’ – about which there will be much more in future blogs – with the record on findmypast showing that Mary BACKLER  was christened in Sotherton, Suffolk, on 4 April 1659, daughter of Thomas and Margaret Backler?

And there I will leave my first Backler blog.  I hope to be back soon, to introduce readers to the First Sotherton Backler and his career as an apothecary in London.