John Howcutt JP (1814-1885)


By the end of his life, John Howcutt was probably the wealthiest member of the family there has ever been in England. The only son of William and Elizabeth (Higginson) Howcutt, he was born in St Martin’s parish, Leicester and christened at its church on 1 February 1814. At the time, the family were living at Cheapside in the centre of the town. The family home was evidently either the building from which William then ran his business or very close to it, as in 1813 he is recorded as having a warehouse at Cheapside. [1]


William Howcutt was a freeman of Leicester, who served as Chamberlain of the Corporation in 1813-14. John was described as an ironmonger, the only son of William Howcutt and a former apprentice to Alderman Parsons, when he also was admitted as a freeman on 9 June 1835 – one of the vast numbers who were added to the roll of Freemen during the final stages before the old Corporation was abolished at the end of that year. Until then, the common councilmen of Leicester Corporation were elected from the ranks of the Freemen by the Mayor and Aldermen.


John’s own business was formerly a partnership with a Mr Johnson as ironmongers at Cheapside and afterwards as a seed merchant at 15 Cank Street. The 1851 census describes him as a "seed merchant employing 3 men". At one stage, John took into partnership a former employee, Thomas Barwell. In addition to these activities, from 1862 until February 1885 he was a Director of the Leicestershire Banking Company. [2]


John married Susan Higginson at Belgrave church, Leicester on 3 August 1844. The marriage licence which was issued on the same day, described him as a gentleman living at Granby Street. The two families had long-standing connections, as Higginson was the maiden name not only of John's mother but also of his father's mother.


John and Susan had seven offspring:


·         Eliza               (1845-1923)

·         Helen             (1846-1903)

·         Alfred             (1849-1858)

·         John               (1850-1852)

·         Fanny             (1852-1932)

·         Agnes             (1853-1854)

·         Frederick John (1856-1857)


John, his sister Mrs. Elizabeth Perkins and his mother were the main beneficiaries of the will of his father, who died in 1844. [3] Further legacies arrived for John in 1851 under the will of his uncle John Howcutt of Bitteswell. [4]


In 1851, John was living at 34 Granby Street, which was on the east side of that road between its junctions with Halford Street and Campbell Street. In the census of that year, he was described as a seed merchant employing three men. John, Susan and their four children had the support of three resident servants.


During the 1850s, John followed his father's path in local politics. In 1850, John stood unsuccessfully in St Margaret's parish as a candidate for election to the Board of Guardians, which was responsible for administering poor relief in Leicester. He had better fortune in the following year when he was returned unopposed to fill a vacancy as a councilman in St Martin's Ward that arose through the bankruptcy of George Edward Cuff. St Martin's was the smallest of the seven wards into which Leicester was then divided and included the central area of the town. John was re-elected in 1853, just topping the poll in a close race for the two available seats with 157 votes, the other candidates scoring 150, 148 and 136. In 1856, John Howcutt was retained the same seat. In the same year, he was also elected to the Board of Guardians for St Margaret's No. 2 district.  In 1856, John retained the seat. In the same year, he was also elected to the Board of Guardians for St Margaret's No. 2 district. [5] Until the 1870s, Leicester town council met at the medieval Guildhall in Guildhall Lane (see picture).


John Howcutt of Leicester was probably the “John Howcott”, who owned Higher Inchcombe, a 160 acre farm in the parish of Lapford, Devon, which was advertised for sale in “Trewman’s Exeter Post or Plymouth and Cornish Advertiser” on 18 September 1856.


By the end of the 1850s, John and his surviving family moved from the commercial centre of Leicester to Stoneygate, which was emerging as one of the most salubrious new residential areas just outside the contemporary boundary of Leicester itself. An auction was held at the Bell Hotel on 1 June 1858 to dispose of nine generously sized lots of building land on the east side of London Road. John Howcutt bought two of the lots - one consisting of 2 acres, 5 perches at £450 per acre and the other amounting to 1 acre, 3 roods, 18 perches at £350 per acre. [6]


Arrangements for constructing the new house, which was named “Ashfield”, did not go totally smoothly. James Foster, a gardener, was engaged to lay out the grounds but was discharged rather suddenly and then sued John Howcutt for some plans that he said he was authorised to get made. John stated that he had paid Foster regularly for his work and that on discharging him he never said anything about plans being owed for. The Judge suggested that the parties should settle the matter by John paying half the amount sued for, and this was agreed to. [7]


Soon after the court case was settled, John advertised his old home in Granby Street for sale by auction at the Stag and Pheasant Hotel, with the following description:

“A Capital Dwelling-House, situate in Granby-street, in the parish of Saint Margaret, Leicester, in the occupation of MR HOWCUTT, the owner comprising Entrance Hall, good Dining and Drawing Rooms, Breakfast Room, Bed Rooms, Kitchens, Scullery, Hard and Soft Water Pumps, Brewhouse, Stable, Harness Room, and every requisite for a family of respectability.

The Property comprises, with the Garden, an area of 544 square yards, with a frontage to Granby-street of 47 feet 7 inches, and is situate in the great thoroughfare between the Market-place and Gallowtree Gate, and the Railway Station, and in the centre of the principal places of business, and is well-adapted for Warehouses or Shops.” [8]


The auction took place on 28 March 1860, when the property was sold for £2,600. Newspaper reports differ as to the purchaser. “The Leicester Chronicle” stated that he was James Spencer, a cabinet maker. However, the “Leicestershire Mercury” identified him as Mr Harding, a grocer. The account that follows appears to confirm that Mr Harding was indeed the successful bidder.


John’s former home did not longer survive the change of ownership, as on 6 April 1861 the “Leicestershire Mercury” (page 5, column 1) carried this report:

“R C Harding of the Haymarket, has recently erected a fine block of buildings, including two handsome shops, on the site of the house formerly occupied by Mr Howcutt, next to the Mercury Office, and on Saturday opened one of the shops himself as a grocery establishment, when its appearance excited general attention and admiration.”


In the 1861 census John was recorded at his new home as a seed and oil cake merchant, accompanied by Susan and their daughter Fanny. John's mother was visiting on census night; she was described as a "proprietor of houses". The resident servants had increased to number a cook, two housemaids and a groom. The older daughters, Elizabeth (aged 15) and Helen (aged 14), were away at school in Dover. The inhabitants of the premises where they boarded were the schoolmistress, four assistant schoolmistresses, five domestic servants and 16 scholars. In view of the size of this establishment, it probably occupied some or all of the Priory buildings that, since its foundation in 1871, have been used by Dover College.


During the 1860's, two of John's daughters were married at St Mary Magdalene church, Knighton. Both of their husbands were sons of William Meade, the vicar of Inchinabaccy, and his wife Anne, daughter of Robert Warren of Kinsdale (14).

  • 13 June 1867 – Eliza Howcutt married Rev Richard Corker Meade, a clergyman whose residence was given as Knighton.

·         8 April 1869 - Helen Howcutt married Warren Meade, a physician then living at Clogan, county Cork.


It is quite feasible that the Howcutt sisters and Meade brothers had been introduced through Elizabeth’s cousin William Howcutt Perkins, who had married Caroline Jane Wilkinson at Cloyne Cathedral, Ireland on 4 June 1863. William and Caroline had probably returned to Leicestershire by 1866, as the monument to their son John Howcutt Perkins in Arnesby churchyard gives the age when he died in December 1869 as 3 years 4 months; this child’s birth was presumably the one indexed as “John H Perkins” when it was registered at Lutterworth in the September quarter 1866.


John Howcutt was appointed a Justice of the Peace in 1867 and served regularly on the Bench until his health failed in the last couple of years of his life.


In 1871, the address recorded for John and his family was Eastfield Road, Knighton. The number of servants had increased again and mustered a nursemaid, cook, housemaid, ladies' maid and a coachman. Two of the women had been born at Bitteswell, including Elizabeth York, aged 31, who was the cook. She was presumably related to Ann York, aged 12, who had been living in as a servant of Mrs Mary Howcutt at Bitteswell in 1851.


The 1881 census gives the family’s address as Ashfield, Elmfield Avenue, and lists three resident servants. In addition, the coachman was living at Ashfield Cottage.



Ashfield - entrance gates


John Howcutt died at Ashfield on 4 December 1885, leaving a net estate valued at the then enormous sum of £110,391.14s.10d. His will left the bulk of these assets to Susan and their children. A total of £200 was given to the Infant Orphanage Asylum, Leicester Blanket Lending Association, the Leicester Association for Promoting the general welfare of the Blind and the Society for the Sick Poor in Leicester. An unusual bequest was of the advowson (i.e. right to appoint the Vicar) of St Mary at Oatlands in the parish of Walton-on-Thames in Surrey; John left this right to his son in law, Rev. Richard Corker Meade.


Susan was still living at Ashfield at the time of the 1891 census, along with her only as yet unmarried child Fanny, a cook, serving maid, housemaid and two nurses. As in 1881, the coachman and his family lived nearby at Ashfield Cottage.


Fanny Howcutt was 42 when she married Rev. David William Lord at Knighton church on 26 March 1894. It seems that they did not stray far from the area, as his residence was recorded as Knighton Fields House, Leicester when he was buried in 1918; Fanny died in 1932, her last residence being Charnwood, Kirby Muxloe.


Susan Howcutt survived until 10 May 1900. When her daughters obtained administration of her estate, the effects were reported to be worth £5,866.7s.3d.




John and Susan are buried, along with five of their children, under a monument on the left hand side of the main entrance drive of Welford Road Cemetery, Leicester. This edifice is almost certainly the largest Howcutt memorial in Britain. The inscriptions record John and Susan's repeated bereavements. Their son John was 1 year and 7 months old when he died in 1852. A daughter Agnes died in 1854, aged 14 months. Frederick John was also 14 months old when he died in 1857. Their last surviving son, Alfred died in 1858 of convulsions accompanying a fever of nine days; this was around the time of his tenth birthday. [9]





Death of Mr John Howcutt


It is with deep regret that we have this week to announce the death of Mr. John Howcutt, which took place at his residence at Ashfield, Knighton, on the 4th inst. The deceased gentleman, who was in his 72nd year, was formerly in partnership with Mr. Johnson, as ironmongers, in Cheapside, and afterwards carried on business as a seed merchant in Cank-street. While engaged in this trade he took into partnership Mr. Thomas Barwell, who had been in his service many years. Deceased, several years ago, retired from any active part in the management of the concern, but was appointed a director of the Leicestershire Banking Company. Mr. Howcutt was at one time a member of the Town Council, having been elected in 1853 for St. Martin's parish with Mr. Joseph Swain. He continued on the Corporation six years, when Mr. Councillor Crow became the colleague of Mr. Swain. He was also, in 1867, appointed a magistrate of the borough, and for several years was very assiduous in attending to his duties as a justice of the peace. During the last year or two, however, the deceased gentleman was unable to give much service to the town, and his appearance on the Bench, which at one time was frequent, was made at irregular intervals, owing to failing health. Mr. Howcutt was a Conservative in politics and a Churchman, and was generally respected by the townspeople at large.- At the Town Hall on Monday morning, the Mayor (Ald. Hart) referred to the death of Mr. Howcutt and said he was a gentleman who was identified many years with the administration of justice in that Court. He could only say, on the part of the Bench, how much they regretted the loss of one who had not only distinguished himself in the position of magistrate, but also as a townsman of Leicester. His loss would be deeply deplored by his friends and everyone who knew him. [10]




Although John and Susan had no grandchildren with the Howcutt surname, their two oldest daughters were both mothers of substantial families.


Eliza (1845-1923) and her husband, Rev Richard Corker Meade (1834-1902) initially lived at Marmullane, county Cork where he was curate before moving to England where Richard became Vicar of Oatlands, Surrey in 1872. Three years later, he was appointed Vicar of St Neots from that year until his death in 1902. [11] Elizabeth remained in residence at St Neots. She died on 29 April 1923 and the monument in the churchyard there refers to her as “Lily wife of Rev R C Meade”. The couple had nine children:








Passage West, Ireland


Herbert Edward


Passage West, Ireland


Richard Warren


Surbiton, Surrey




Oatlands, Surrey




St Neots


Claude John


St Neots




St Neots


Alwyne Howcutt


St Neots


William Clanwilliam



(died young


Helen (1846-1903) and her husband, Warren Meade (1838-1916), had seven offspring, their first child being born in Ireland and all the others at Alverstoke, Hampshire:





Helen Ann Warren



John Augustus Warren



William Edward






Frances M 



Guy Warren 



Horace Warren







In September 1900, Warner, Sheppard and Wade announced that they had been instructed by the Trustees of the late John Howcutt, Esq. to sell Ashfield and its grounds by auction. [12] A further advertisement appeared, shortly before the sale that was due to take place on 31 October [13], with this description of the property:



“Ashfield”, Elmfield Avenue, Stoneygate


A highly important and attractive residential property situate in a charming position in the best suburb of Leicester, about one mile from the centre of the town, within three minutes’ walk of the Tramways, for many years in the occupation of the late Mr. and Mrs. Howcutt, comprising the substantially-built family residence known as “Ashfield”, Elmfield-Avenue, Stoneygate, standing in beautifully timbered and extensive grounds, with conservatory, vinery, lawns. Kitchen garden, paddock with sunk fence, and field below extending to the Evington Brook. There is a frontage of about 540 ft. to Elmfield Avenue and the whole property has an area of 7 acres, 3 roods, 0 perches or thereabouts.


The House, which has a handsome carved stone portico entrance, is approached by a tastefully laid-out carriage drive, the front has a pleasant outlook, and to the East side there is a fine view over the undulating country towards Thurnby. It contains a spacious tiles entrance hall, 21 ft. by 16 ft., with stone fireplace and stained glass roof; dining room 24ft. 6in. by 17 ft. 4in.; drawing room, 23 ft. by 17 ft.; breakfast-room, 17ft by 15 ft.


On the First Floor, which is reached by a wide oak and mahogany staircase, there are five bedrooms and two dressing-rooms, bath-room, fitted with lavatory, w.c.; three store cupboards, and linen cupboard.


On the Second Floor, three bedrooms, large box-room tank-room, and housemaid’s closet, with back staircase.


The Domestic Offices, which are adequate for the requirements of the house, consist of two kitchens, butler’s pantry, two larders, china pantry, and excellent cellarage.


The Out-Offices surround a stone-paved stable yard, enclosed by double doors and comprise two loose boxes and stall, coach-house and harness room, with three roomy corn and hay chambers over, wash-house fitted with oven and coppers; coal house, boot house and manure pit, etc.


There is a productive Kitchen Garden, in which are Greenhouse, Vinery, Store House and Mushroom-house heated by hot water pipes, tool house, etc.


The Grounds are extensive, and well planted with shrubs, and sheltered on every side by matured timber trees, on the north side of the paddock there is the Long Walk, which is protected by a row of lime trees.




[1]    The Leicester Journal & Midlands Counties General Advertiser (5 March 1813) included this advertisement:

Iron chests for parish registers

William Howcutt, ironmonger etc. most respectfully informs Churchwardens, Overseers, and others, that he has now ready for sale Iron Chests for the above purposes, made and fitted up to agreeable Act of Parliament, and which he can sell from £2.10s to £4. They may be seen at his Warehouse in Cheapside, or at his shop in Lutterworth, on Market days; any orders will be thankfully received.

Leicester, Feb. 25th, 1813

[2]    Leicestershire Mercury, 14 February 1885, page 6, column 5.

[3]    Will of William Howcutt, gentleman of Leicester, proved at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) on 29 February 1844.

[4]    Will of John Howcutt, gentleman of Bitteswell, proved at PCC on 14 February 1851.

[5]    Leicester Municipal Borough and County Poll Book 1883 (Leicester).

[6]    Leicester Chronicle, 5 June 1858, page 7, column 4.

[7]    Leicester Chronicle, 25 February 1860, page 1, column 2.

[8]    Leicester Chronicle, 10 March 1860, page 2, column 3.

[9]    Cause of death from death certificate. The certificate states he was 9 years old but the tombstone gives Alfred's age as 10. He died on 10 December 1858, his birth having been registered during the first three months of 1849.

[10]  Leicester Journal and Midland Counties General Advertiser, 11 December 1885, page 8, local news.

[11]  Church and parish records of the United Diocese of Cork, Cloyne and Ross” by Rev J H Cole (Cork 1903), page 86.

[12]  Leicester Chronicle, 22 September 1900, page 1, column 1.

[13]  Leicester Chronicle, 27 October 1900, page 1, column 1.