Sarah Woollaston, her attendant and the Will that never was.

Sarah was born in the village of Beoley in the County of Worcester. Her father Samuel was a wealthy land agent and local benefactor in the County and left her £1,000 in his will in 1833 together with an endowment of an annual payment of £200. A vast fortune in those days equivalent in today’s money of almost £100,000.

The Will of Samuel Woollaston, Sarah’s father

Sarah never married and it is not clear how she eventually ended up on the then French speaking island of Guernsey, several hundred miles away unless it was for health reasons, or indeed “wealth” reasons.

Living in a lovely house overlooking St Peter Port Guernsey, she was 77 years old when she died in 1865 and other occupants of the house in 1861 included two housemaids, Mary and Margaret Davies who originally came from Wales, and in my opinion were related to Sarah’s long time companion Elizabeth who had died in 1850 aged 43.

St Peter Port Guernsey today

Researching this story has proven to be one of the most challenging, in trying to piece together a story of a bond of friendship between two women, who even in death could not be separated, and that after a span of fifteen years they were reunited in being buried alongside each other here in St David’s Cemetery Carmarthen.
The two identical adjoining memorials have the most ornate elongated gothic script, which makes reading them extremely difficult.

Resting alongside each other in St David’s Cemetery Carmarthen

Made of granite they would have been made at enormous cost, hand engraved by specialists and transported to Carmarthen possibly by sea. These memorials are unique to the cemetery and thankfully remain in excellent condition.
Sarah, despite her enormous wealth apparently left no legal will – a fact which I find most extraordinary, not least because after her death her body was transported hundreds of miles by sea to Carmarthen from Guernsey and laid to rest alongside her faithful companion who had died sixteen years previously. This could not have been done unless some form of will existed. Not only that, but the construction and indeed the very wording on the two granite memorials could have only been “prepared” and written by Sarah herself.

The inscription on Sarah’s memorial
The inscription on Elizabeth’s memorial

Probate was granted on the 13th January 1866 to John Woollaston – Sarah’s brother, himself a land agent, the value of the estate being £8,000, which in today’s money equates to over a half a million pounds. Was there any skulduggery I hear you ask in the fact that no will existed or could not be found for someone of such standing in the community and who is listed in the Census of 1861 as a person of means with Bonded Securities? The following is a statement recently issued by The Probate Registry in connection with my application for a copy of Sarah’s Will – We are unable to provide you with a copy of the will of the deceased. The reason for this is that the Grant that was issued in this case is a Grant of Letters of Administration. This is a legal document issued by the Probate Registry when a person has died without making a valid will (called intestate) and is issued to an administrator of the estate. This is usually the lawful spouse if any, or nearest blood relative”. It will undoubtedly always remain a great mystery that a spinster of such enormous wealth left no legal or apparent will.

St Leonards church in Beoley, Worcester.
The magnificent stained glass window commemorating Sarah Woollaston.

Sarah’s lovely home village of Beoley in Worcester has a really lovely parish church called St Leonards and it is not surprising to learn that it has one of the most impressive stained glass windows I have seen – dedicated to Sarah herself as can be seen in the accompanying photograph. Both her parents and other family members are also buried in the cemetery.Thanks go to the Reverend Paul Irving of St Leonards Church in taking the time to photograph the window and inscription and giving permission for their use in this story.

The inscription underneath the stained glass window

What is most intriguing of all in this story are the two inscriptions on both memorials in elongated gothic script, and also the use of roman numerals for the dates which is very rare indeed and almost unheard of. Very clearly, Elizabeth Davies’ memorial was paid for by Sarah herself, but in my opinion was not erected until Sarah herself was buried alongside her 15 years later so that the two were erected at the same time….and then it’s what one can interpret from the inscriptions themselves and what story does it tell ? Sarah’s own memorial inscription is understandable given what we know so far, but on reading the inscription on Elizabeth’s memorial one is immediately drawn to an inseparable bond of devotion that Elizabeth had for her employer, let down only by her own illness and suffering over a “prolonged period of protracted sickness” Very clearly Sarah was greatly heartbroken on the death of her long time companion and never recovered from it, taking solace in the companionship of her two housemaids also from Wales.
There is much more to this story than we shall ever know. Were it not for the inscriptions on these two memorials standing side by side their story would never have been brought to light, and though we can look through the prism of history and deduce our own conclusions, the fact remains that St David’s cemetery continues to reveal the most intriguing stories of a long forgotten past, that must and should be preserved.

SARAH WOOLLASTON MEMORIAL INSCRIPTION

Under this stone
lie the mortal remains of
SARAH WOOLLASTON
born in Beoley in the County of Worcester
December the 6th 1787
deceased at Guernsey
the 6th day of June 1865
Brought hither by her own request
to be laid by the side of her faithful
attendant, whom, with many other
dear friends, she hoped, through the
atoning merits and pardoning
mercy of the Divine Redeemer
to meet in a better world.

ELIZABETH DAVIES MEMORIAL INSCRIPTION

To the revered memory of
ELIZABETH DAVIES
Daughter of David Davies of this town
and Mary his wife.
In grateful recollection of her many virtues
This memorial is erected
by one whom for more than twenty years
experienced at her hands, in addition to the
services of a faithful attendant, the constant
fidelity of a true friend, and the affection of
a loving Sister, by whose unceasing
watchfulness and zealous attention
never failed but by constraint
of mortal suffering: the pain
of protracted sickness was soothed
the anxieties of life assuaged, and under
the mercy of God, it’s duration prolonged.
She departed this life at Guernsey
on the 7th day of December 1850
in the 43rd year of her age.