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The Disappearance
of a Yeoman Family: A Social Study

Though the MAY family can be traced in Worting (Hants) as early as the 1580s and there are many records of them in the Worting/Basing area from the 1650s onwards, there is no evidence to show that they lived in the region during the Civil War and the early Commonwealth period. There is a total lack of references to known members of the family. Of course, the general disorder caused by the Civil War and its aftermath has meant that records themselves are few and far between. In the Odiham (Hants) parish register in 1652, Thomas HOOKER, the parish clerk, wrote:

There will come a time that men will come to search in this book for the names of their children, and in regard that they cannot find their names here written, let them not blame me for it, but look to themselves, for since the wars began in this land there have been many that have been baptised that I never knew of, neither had I any notes of them. Nevertheless, I know that the blame will be laid upon me.

Perhaps this is why there is no mention of the MAYs during this period. This is feasible, but somewhat unlikely. Records were certainly kept during the Commonwealth, though they were made under a totally different system of administration. Marriage registration in North-east Hampshire, for instance, was based on the estate of Sir Robert REYNOLDS, Solicitor General of the Commonwealth, at Elvetham. The MAYs, as will be shown, were not an unimportant family. Some mention of them, somewhere, would be expected.

There is an alternative. A family of MAYs living in Newport on the Isle of Wight, at least between 1649 and 1663, are headed by one Christopher MAY who, apparently, married twice and had six children. This man was not an islander. The records of the Isle of Wight have been totally indexed, and nowhere is there a baptism of a Christopher MAY recorded, nor a burial. In fact MAY is an extremely rare name on the island. This family entered the Isle of Wight from without. They stayed for a short time, and then they left. Now Christopher MAY is not a common name by any means, and the name Christopher is characteristic of the MAY family of North-east Hampshire. Using the Newport records, it has just been possible to fit the island family onto the pedigree of the Hampshire MAYs (fig.2): Christopher MAY of Newport becomes Christopher MAY (d.1697) of Basing!

The Basingstoke area of Hampshire was a very dangerous place to be during the Civil War. The royalist Marquis of WINCHESTER had barricaded himself inside his great fortified mansion-cum-castle of Basing House in 1641 and, for three years, he and his followers were a huge thorn in the side of the roundhead army. Basing was the last royalist stronghold in Hampshire to fall, and retribution was sternly meeted out on the cavaliers within. It may be that the MAYs were a royalist family. Were they associates of the loyal Marquis who shut themselves inside Basing House, helping him defend his home for King and Country? Or did they escape the dreaded parliamentarians by fleeing to obscurity on the Isle of Wight, until it was safe to return? Their friends (and later relatives), the WOODROFFEs and PITMANs were evidently royalists: Richard WOODROFFE of Steventon and Edmund PITMAN of Basingstoke lent the King ten and twenty shillings, respectively, in 1626 (Baigent & Millard 1889). Admittedly, so called forced loans were widely extorted by King Charles at this time, but, despite their local standing, neither of these men were so well known figures that they would be singled out for payment. the baptism of a Sarah daughter of Christopher MAY at Newport as early as 1623 may show that the later Christopher (d.1697) already had contacts with the Isle of Wight through his Uncle Christopher (1601-1644), enabling him to move their around 1649.

Further, the Morgan MAY baptism at Newport, in 1654, may show that Christopher of Newport and Christopher of Basing were indeed one and the same. Morgan, another unusual name, was used for one of the sons of Daniel MAY (1771-1851) of Sonning (Berks) four generations later, in 1818. The memory of a name spreading back over a hundred and fifty years may seem improbable, but this sort of situation was, again, characteristic of the MAY family. Mary Anne MAY (1848-1931) and her contemporaries were well aware, without research, that her great grandparents, Thomas (1737-1800) and Mary (MAY) MAY (1743-1819), were cousins: both descendants of Thomas MAY (d.1718) of Nately Scures; also that her brother, Edmundís wife was a descendant of James MAY (1728-1772) of Englefield, and her brothers-in-law, John and Thomas COOPER, were descendants of William (1768-1850) and Ann (MAY) COOPER (1771-1846)! (May 1916). Similarly, the nineteenth century Mayors of Basingstoke knew that they were related to Charles MAY, Mayor in 1711-14; and the present MAYs of the elder and younger secondary branches of the family knew they were related, but not how. This continuing memory of, and contact with, other members of the extended family was strong even in the early eugteenth century, when Charles MAY (1670-1714) of Basingstoke looked to his elder cousin, John MAY (1652-1722) of Worting, as one of his childrenís trustees.

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    © David Nash Ford 2001. All Rights Reserved.