Occupants of Orchard Cottage: The Pryor Family

Orchard Cottage - probably 1880s
Photo supplied by Joan Gane
Joseph Pryor and Sarah Charter's Marriage Record, 1823
James Pryor's Land Holdings in 1820
Cambridgeshire Archives croc.ma.Q_RDc34
Joseph Prior's Signature 1853
England and Wales, Crime, Prisons and Punishment, 1770-1935; accessed on FindMyPast

Then owned by the Manor of Sheene, the 1820 Enclosure Map shows an almost rectangular plot of land that contains both today’s Orchard Cottage and Sheene Cottage. The occupier and tenant’s name is James Pryor, sometimes recorded as Prior.

A second plot of land in James’ name sits on the corner of Whitecroft Road behind where the Nissen Huts  now stand near the present-day War Memorial.

Born in Meldreth in 1773, James was the youngest son of Samuel Pryor who was married to Elizabeth Kefford in Meldreth in September 1757. Other children born to the couple were Samuel 1758, Susanna 1759, another James 1762 who died in infancy, Ann 1764, Joseph 1767, Benjamin 1770, and Jane 1775.

Samuel, who died in 1815, was a carpenter and James, following in his father’s footsteps, continued in that occupation.

In the Spring of 1797 James married Melbourn-born Charlotte Cole in All Saints Church, Melbourn. Parish records record the birth in Meldreth of four children – Joseph 1797 and Charlotte 1806, an un-named child who died in 1811, and a second daughter, Sarah, who died in 1816.

At some point James must either have purchased, or inherited, the freehold to land valued at more than forty shillings entitling him to join the very small number of those allowed to vote. All of the Meldreth Electoral Registers between 1826 and 1835 describe him as a freeholder and lending his vote to both Whig and Conservative hopefuls.

James died in Meldreth on 1 February 1836 and like his father before him was laid to rest in the Melbourn Independent graveyard on the corner of Meeting Lane and Orchard Road. Charlotte died in Meldreth one year later on 6 February 1837 and was buried with her late husband.

Their only son Joseph Pryor, sometimes seen as Prior, married Sarah Charter (1796-1873) in Meldreth in January 1823. Like both his father and grandfather before him Joseph was a carpenter by trade and the 1841 census records him living in Sheen End.

Deciding who lived where using the census returns of the 1800s is not always a simple task. House numbers we have today were not in use and neither house names nor street names were recorded with any consistency. Whilst the railway and accompanying station arrived in the village in the 1850s no reference was yet made to Station Road. Instead, the road by Orchard Cottage was recorded by census enumerators using a series of different titles. In addition to Sheen End it was referred to as the High Street, Melbourn Road or, simply, near Sheen Mill and those usages continued well into the 20th century.

However, by cross-referencing the names of neighbours and comparing them to the number of known houses between Fieldgate and Cowslip Corner where the road once took a sharp right turn into Melbourn – today’s T-junction – we can be confident Joseph and his wife Sarah occupied Orchard Cottage in 1841, 1851, 1861 and 1871.

Whilst in no sense were the Pryors at the upper end of the Meldreth social hierarchy, in 1847 Joseph does make an appearance in the Cambridgeshire Jurors Book alongside the more familiar names of Mortlock, Clear, Palmer, Ellis and Howard.  Since one qualification to serve as a juror was based on the ownership of land, which we assume he had either purchased or inherited from his late father, the majority of Meldreth residents were therefore excluded.

Perhaps further reflecting his social status, by 1851 Joseph is employing one journeyman carpenter and one apprentice, is listed in assorted county directories, and appears as a signatory on the letter dated 1853 to the Government petitioning on behalf of young John Casbon.

Elevated to the status of Master Carpenter on the 1871 census Joseph passed away in 1876. Widowed and with no immediate heirs his will was proved by his near neighbours Thomas Wood and George Palmer leaving effects valued at under £100.00.

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