The Remarkable Life of Jane Vigor

Qualities of equable temper, understanding and wit stood Jane in good stead when, in 1728, she was whisked from her quiet home to the deep snows and treacherous politics of Russia.

She was born in 1699 and has been described as  ‘ the daughter of the Rev’d Edward Goodwin of Rawmarsh Hall, Yorkshire’.  However this does not accord with a remarkable anecdote, dated 1740, and preserved by the redoubtable Mrs. Delaney. It seems to have been told by Jane herself, though recorded by someone else, recounting a strange meeting during her journey back to England in January 1740. She was 40 at that time, had been recently widowed from her second husband and was expecting a child.

Extract from the book ‘The History of Methley’

Accompanied by an unnamed man, who was in fact the Russia merchant William Vigor, her future and third husband to be, Jane was travelling by sledge and had arrived exhausted at Memel, in Polish Prussia. The inn was full of soldiers so Vigor made enquiries about a private lodging and a kindly stranger, named Meyer, directed them to a spacious house, which, to their surprise, turned out to be his own home. When Jane thanked him for his benevolence he explained that the previous year his son had been travelling in England when he fell ill with smallpox in a northern town.  As he was lying near death in a dirty alehouse, a gentleman heard of his plight, and took him to his own home. Mr Meyer said that his son owed his life to this gentleman’s goodness.

Jane asked his son where this had occurred and he replied that it was in Methley, near Leeds, in Yorkshire, and the gentleman’s name was Goodwin. “ ‘Sir,’ said Jane, ‘it was my own father!’

At this point I am indebted to Roger and Judy Scull in Cornwall who have been kind enough to provide me with a more comprehensive narrative of the journey from St Petersburg

Jane’s father was in fact the Rev George Goodwin, MA, who was rector of Methley, in West Yorkshire, from 1709-1751. Mr Goodwin, born in 1666, is described as ‘a clergyman of large fortune living now in Yorkshire, which, after her brother’s death, devolved to her [Jane];’ and there is an intriguing snippet of gossip from Yorkshire diarist John Hobson, who writes in August 1728, that he dined with “Mr Goodwin, minister of Medley, who had lost £40,000 in the South Sea, and married his daughter to a Russia merchant, and had given her £14,000 to her portion, as his cousin, Mr Goodwin of Tanckersley, told us.”  Jane was greatly attached to her father.

His portrait hung in the drawing room of her home, Taplow House, and she wrote of her sadness in leaving “a fond father, from whose presence I had never been a fortnight in my whole life till I left him to come into a strange country.”

In a little quiet but exquisitely beautiful medieval church of Methley, near Leeds.  There was an oval slab displayed on the wall near the altar, recording that:-

The slab was placed in the corner at the back of some old tombs belonging to the Savile Family; it was getting overlooked, and would have been forgotten.  The reader will ask what it is to us that George Goodwin who was born in the year of the great fire of London.  Who was he? What did he do? and who was his daughter, Mrs Vigor? Little remains of evidence of the presence of this  plaque (2012).    
Little is known of Jane Vigor’s long life, encompassing almost all the 18th century, first as the daughter of a wealthy clergyman and latterly as the wife of a Quaker merchant, except for 12 tumultuous years in between into which she packed a lifetime of incident.

Between 1728 and 1740, Jane travelled to Russia with the first of her three husbands, became acquainted with all the important figures at Empress Anne’s court, was married and widowed twice, and lost at least two children.

She inspired love and admiration in all she met.  Empress Anne herself, in a hand-written letter to George II, commended her.  “Wee likewise having a particular benevolence towards the said widow for her good deserts, and consequently taking a share in her Well-fare, are desirous on Our side any way, to promote it.”

Jane, beautiful and witty with a large fortune, was a good catch but she was 29 before she married Thomas Ward, one of four sons of the former chief baron of the exchequer, Sir Edward Ward.    Jane gossips wittily about christenings, weddings, funerals, and the lives of the people she met, but has a way of slipping in a sharp-eyed judgement.

Describing the protracted marriage celebrations of the Empress’ niece, she adds: “And thus ended this grand wedding, from which I am not yet rested, and what is worse, all this rout has been made to tie two people together who, I believe, heartily hate one another.”

Jane is more circumspect about her own private life. We learn only obliquely of Ward’s sudden death in February 1731 and her subsequent speedy courtship by and marriage to  Claudius Rondeau his Secretary. Rondeau, born on March 28, 1695, was the son of a French Protestant refugee who settled in Canterbury. He was a constant support to the Wards, living with them ‘as a brother’, and features frequently in Jane’s letters.

When Rondeau died in October 5, 1739, Jane was pregnant again and anxious to return home. Because of her condition, it was thought too hazardous for her to travel by sea so Rondeau’s secretary John Bell arranged for William Vigor to accompany her.  Her daughter, Claudia, was born on May 8, 1740, but, sadly, died twenty-two days later, and was buried with her father at St Dunstan’s Church, Canterbury.

Jane married once again, to William Vigor, her protector on the long journey home, and for a time they lived in London. Vigor’s friend, John Byrom, seemed delighted with the romance of their meeting: “I have wished [you] much joy in my mind ever since I was told that the two fellow travellers had agreed to live at home together.”

In 1749, Byrom wrote to his wife: “I passed an evening with Mr Vigor, who has left London, and taken or bought a house near Maidenhead.”  This was Taplow House, in Berry Hill.      It was a substantial property with stables, garden, orchards, and several acres of arable land and meadow.    Many well-known Quakers had settled in that area of Buckinghamshire, near Jordan’s, one of the oldest established Quaker Meeting Houses, where William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, and other early Quakers are buried. Vigor was a great friend of the Penn family and is named as an executor in the will of Penn’s grandson,

In a charter of 1701 granted by William Penn, Edward Shippen a Quaker of Methley was named as Mayor of Philadelphia,  America – can’t possibly be any connection, can there!!!

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