Tribute to Miss Freda Ada Shelly and Mrs. Joy Frances MacKechnie
(Rollestonian Article - Winter 2007)

In a single week in October 2007, the last Rolleston members of two of our oldest families were buried in St. Mary’s churchyard.

Miss Freda Shelly died on 28th. September, aged 92 years. She is buried with her spinster sisters Kathleen Mary and Annie Pritchard Shelly, who both died in 2000. Their brother William died in 1998.

The Shelly family were involved in various aspects of village life for many years, mostly as farmers, although one was a publican and another a shoemaker. The first member we know of, John Shelly, was obviously a substantial citizen, as he signed the Constable’s accounts in 1742 and 1747. He was Overseer of the Poor in 1773 and Churchwarden in 1787. In 1820 John’s grandson William Shelly, farmer, was Overseer of the Poor. His son, another William, was Assistant Overseer of the Poor in 1853, and in 1875 he was the collector of Land Tax, Income Tax and Inhabited House Duty for Rolleston.

His son Joseph was Surveyor of the Highways (like Overseer of the Poor and Tax Collector, more of a public duty than a profession) from 1884 to 87. He is listed in the Census Returns for 1881 and 1901 as a farmer at Barn Farm. In 1901 his two sons and two daughters worked on the farm, and he employed an 11-year-old “cattle boy”. In 1922 Joseph’s son William (Freda’s father) served as a Trustee of the Almshouses. When he retired from farming, he bought “The Hollies”, which became the family home.

Mrs. Joy MacKechnie (née Richards) died on 10th. October, aged 91 years. She was the granddaughter of Ann Higgott, the wife of William Richards who bought the butcher’s shop in Chapel Lane from Thomas Oliver in 1915. Although her parents lived in Goodman Street, she spent much of her girlhood with her grandparents, who allowed her the freedom to roam about the fields and climb trees. She attended Burton Girls’ High School, trained as a teacher and taught in local schools, ending her career in Stretton. As soon as she was able, she came to live in Rolleston, where she was a familiar figure, in her later years sitting in the sunshine outside her cottage on Brookside and chatting to passers-by. Many Rollestonians will remember her last “public function” when she planted the millennium oak tree on the Croft. She is buried with her son who died in a road accident at the age of 18.

She was the last Rolleston member of the Higgott family, who can trace their ancestry back to the Agards of Foston. Margaret (or Margery), the daughter of John Agard was born in 1441. She married Sir John of Rolleston and came to live in the village, where their son Thomas was born in 1471. John died in 1485 and Margaret in 1500.

One of their descendants, Gilbert Agard (c. 1586 - 1630) also spelt his name Hagard, Haggard, Hagget and Higget. The children of his son Humphrey were baptised Higgott. Some of the family went to Rugeley, where they became hatters: they spelt their name Higgitt, and still do! In 1749 another Humphrey was paid 6s. 9p. out of public funds for “ale for the highways” and in 1753 and 1754 was important enough to sign the Constable’s accounts. 

In the late 18th. century and throughout the 19th. century, a succession of three Samuel Higgots of Ivy House were second only to the Mosleys in active participation in village life. The first Samuel (1735 - 1804) signed the Constable’s accounts from 1777 to 1783. In 1786, he signed a bastardy bond as Churchwarden. 

His son, Samuel, (1767 - 1840) was obviously a carpenter as in 1831 he made “an elem [elm] coffin for Sam Eawood.” The Almshouses accounts include amongst others “a bill for woodwork”, “sundry repairs”, “carpenter’s work” and “a bill for repairing windows”. In 1834 it was agreed that “the roofs be repaired under the direction of Mr. Samuel Higgott”. He was variously described as a wheelwright or a carpenter. He was Overseer of the Poor in 1821, so one of his duties was to see that unmarried mothers did not become a charge on the Parish: it must have been slightly embarrassing when in 1823 another Rolleston Higgott was cited as the putative father of “a bastard child born to Ann Wood.”

The third Samuel (1825 - 1909) was Guardian of the Poor for seven years, Lay Consultee for eleven years, and was Churchwarden from 1869 to 1900, when he resigned “owing to his increasing infirmities” He was a Trustee of the Sophia Anne Mosley Trust at its inception in 1890 and remained a member until 1902. He was a Trustee of the Almshouses for eight years. As Guardian of the Poor, he played an important part in the building of the Poor House in Belvedere Road, now part of Queen’s Hospital. He was the first Chairman of the Tutbury Rural District Council in 1895. His sisters, the Misses Hannah and Elizabeth Higgott, made a generous donation towards the restoration of the Almshouses in 1893. All three died unmarried, and the estate passed to their nephew, Arthur Benwell, who erected a window in their memory in the Nave of St. Mary’s Church.

Joy MacKechnie was the granddaughter of Ann Higgott, the wife of William Richards who bought the butcher’s shop from Thomas Oliver in 1915.

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Last updated: 22 December 2007