Hendersons of Worth, John and Laura

In the first article we looked at William and Elizabeth Henderson and how they came to be farming at Worth. Their two surviving children, Sarah and John, were born within 14 months of each other in 1812 and 1813. Growing up together in the farmhouse at Felderland, they would have been steeped in the rural customs and farming practices of the period. Sarah was twenty four when she married Charles Hannam in Worth Church, the eldest son of Henry Pett and Catherine Hannam of nearby Northbourne Court. There is no know portrait of Charles but his sister, Laura, coloured this picture of him driving sheep in about 1821.

The Hannams were also farmers and owned 36 acres of pasture land in Worth. Charles and Sarah never had children and he died, relatively young, at the age of fifty two.

John’s secondary education was at a private school in Boulogne where he was sent for six years. He spoke fluent French and studied the Classics, particularly Latin. The reality is that there were tensions between him and his father. John wanted to go into the Navy, like his grandfather and two of his uncles, while his father wanted his only son to take over the family farm and didn’t allow him to sign up. John spent his twenties hunting, fishing and in other amusements, interspersed with several sea trips with his uncle, William Willmott Henderson. He sailed with him in the Mediterranean in the late 1830s on board HMS Edinburgh and on HMS Victory, based in Portsmouth, in the early 1840s.

Over the years the Henderson and the Hannams often met up and Laura obviously caught John’s eye. She was two years younger than him and he had known her for at least eight years before they got engaged in 1844. This was the turning point for John; in the Autumn of that year he married Laura, set up home with her at Ivy (now Ilex) Cottage and his father agreed to hand over to him the running of the farm. Their first son William is born in the summer of 1845 and Laura devoted herself to motherhood, having eight children over the next twelve years, only one of whom died in infancy.

Farming was changing from the rustic image shown in this picture, again painted by Laura in about 1825.

John was a progressive farmer and, realising the need for larger units, he rented land to run in conjunction with the family property. In the 1851 Census he is recorded as a “Farmer and Grazier” with 631 acres employing five indoor and forty six outdoor workers. At about that time he introduced steam power for stock purposes and later for ploughing on the relatively flat land around Worth. He would have grown crops, some for sale and the rest as feedstuff for the shorthorn cattle he reared and sold. There were orchards, a hop garden and a walled garden, presumably for growing fruit and vegetables, so they would have been virtually self-sufficient.

In 1854 the family moved to Shrubbery House in Felder lane. The 1850s and 60s were generally good for farming in England, the Industrial Revolution had raised most people’s living standards and meat became more affordable. John and his family prospered and although he reduced the number of acres he farmed as a tenant, he was still a significant employer of local labour. By 1866 he made enough money to buy Upton House from the estate of the late Margaret Collett and moved there, devoting more time to local affairs. In the 1871 Census he is still farming but styles himself “Esquire, Magistrate, Landowner”. Like his father, he was a member of the Eastry Board of Guardians and served for twelve years, nine of them as Chairman.

John Henderson of Upton House

Despite all he had achieved on land he remained committed to his first love, the sea. With his encouragement, four of his sons had joined the Royal Navy and when he gave up farming in 1878 he took several sea trips with them. He went to Madeira on HMS Opal with his son John and in 1879 he sailed in HMS Garnet to the east coast of South America with his son William. John let Felderland farm to a William Laslett while he and Laura continued to live at Upton House. Sadly, she died in 1884 and although he was to go on one last voyage at the age of 72 (to Malta on HMS Invincible with Reginald) Upton House had become too big and perhaps too lonely for him and he sold it in 1887. He moved to Walmer but his health was beginning to fail and he ended his life, as he had begun it, with his sister. She nursed him for his last five years and he is buried in the family vault in the churchyard at Worth.

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