On the north wall of St Peter’s Church there was a memorial tablet dedicated to Sarah Rodney, wife of James Rodney. Unfortunately it was destroyed in the fire of 2014.
Sacred to the memory of
wife of James Rodney Esq
of this place
And daughter of Nics Russel Gent
She departed this life August XV (15)
MDCCXCL (1791) Aged XLIV (44) years
Her remains are buried
in the Parish Church
at Walton upon Thames Surry
Also of James Rodney Esq
of Alton in this county. Husband of
the above mentioned Sarah Rodney
who died November the X (10)
MDCCXCIII (1793) aged LXII (72)
Whose remains are also interred in
The Parish Church of Walton
upon Thames Surrey
James Rodney was the younger son of Henry Rodney of Walton upon Thames, Surrey, and Mary Newton. The Rodneys are an ancient family from Somerset.
His older brother was George Brydges Rodney who had a distinguished career in the Royal Navy. He was created Baron Rodney of Rodney Stoke, Somerset, by patent of 19 June 1782 and is perhaps better known as Admiral Rodney. Admiral Rodney lived in Old Alresford, in Old Alresford Manor which he built between 1749 and 1751 on the site of the old manor next to the Parish Church. James Rodney had his own manor house built in 1768, a mile to the NE of that of his brother.
James Rodney married, firstly, Anne Newcome “of Soho Square; a lady with a fortune of £12,000” in 1751. Anne was the daughter of Stephen Newcome, Governor of Bencoolen.(1) She died in 1774 and was buried on 8th March 1774 in Walton upon Thames.(2)
In Southampton on 12th December 1774 James Rodney married Sarah Russel of Alresford. Sarah died in 1791 and was buried on 8th March 1791 in Walton upon Thames. The memorial tablet tells us that Sarah was the daughter of Nicholas Russel of Alresford but other than that we know little about her. There is even some uncertainty over her surname. It may have been Ruffel rather than Russel or Russell. The use of ‘long s’ written as ‘f’ was common at that time.
Where did James and Sarah Rodney live? James owned property throughout Hampshire including two adjacent houses in Alton – 1 Normandy Street (now known as Lord Rodney House) and 1 High Street (Hill House). It appears that at the time of his death he maintained Hill House for his own use but his place of residence recorded in his will written in 1792 is Ropley and it was in Ropley that he died.
There is further evidence that James Rodney lived in Ropley but there is no precise address. Newspaper archives contain many references to an advert for “Cornwell’s Celebrated Vegetable Cordial” which mentions “a letter from James Rodney Esq, brother to Lord Rodney, dated Ropley, near Alresford, Hants, May 22nd 1791 expressive of great encomiums of the excellency of the Cordial”. On 5th October 1792 James Rodney wrote to the Royal Society of Arts on the subject of wheat cultivation in Ropley. William Howley Vicar of Ropley also wrote and supported what James Rodney had written.
James Rodney had no children. The chief beneficiary of his will was his great-nephew Robert Rodney. Robert would have been only 7 years old at the time of James’s death in 1793. In retrospect, we can see that a property in Ropley, Ropley Cottage(3), appeared to be let to tenants during the early 1800s but in April 1823 there is a newspaper announcement about the death at Ropley Cottage of Robert’s second son from ‘Hooping Cough’ at the age of 7 months. The following year newspapers announce the death of Robert’s wife Ann at Ropley Cottage. The death of their newborn daughter at the same time isn’t mentioned.
Captain the Honourable Robert Rodney RN survived his wife by only 2 years. He died at Plymouth and his funeral procession included “six manned boats, with colours, &c. under the firing of minute guns from the frigate [Dryad] and presented a spectacle seldom witnessed here; a vast crowd assembled to view it at an early hour in the morning.” He was buried in the family vault at Old Alresford. His son, Robert Dennett Rodney, following the deaths of three childless uncles, became 6th Baron Rodney in 1846.
There is plenty of evidence that Robert Rodney lived at Ropley Cottage so it seems reasonable to surmise that this property was inherited from his great-uncle James Rodney and that this was James Rodney’s former home. The placement of the memorial tablet in the church would have required permission known as a Faculty which would mention who wished to place the tablet. We have been unable to find a record of such a Faculty but we will continue looking.
- British Bencoolen was a possession of the British East India Company extending nearly 500 miles along the southwestern coast of Sumatra and centred on the area of what is now Bengkulu City.
- A number of members of the Rodney family were baptised and/or buried at St Mary’s, Walton upon Thames.
- The term ‘Cottage’ was used at that time for much grander properties than we imagine today. Ropley Cottage is now known as Ropley Manor.
With thanks to Jane Hurst at the Curtis Museum, Alton who provided background information about James Rodney, and Sarah Hart at the Diocesan Register at Winchester and Joseph Hoare at the Hampshire Archive who gave advice on searching for the Faculty which enabled the installation of the memorial tablet.
Findmypast.co.uk and Ancestry.co.uk were used to find newspaper reports and birth, marriage and death records.