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Jonathan Stokes and the Black Country

Jonathan Stokes (1755-1831) was an Edinburgh trained doctor, and, from 1782 to 1788 was a member of the Lunar Society, one of the intellectual driving forces of the period whose members included Matthew Boulton and Erasmus Darwin. He is remembered particularly for his work, in collaboration with others, on the uses of digitalis. Whilst the Lunar Society is most often associated with Soho House in Birmingham, the home of Matthew Boulton, or with the Lichfield home of Erasmus Darwin, Jonathan Stokes had long lasting associations with the Black Country, particularly the Stourbridge and Kingswinford areas.

Erasmus Darwin House in Lichfield and Soho House (from Wikipedia)


His parents were Rebecca and Jonathan Stokes, “Gentleman of Worcester”. Many of the sources say he was born in Chesterfield, although this has recently been shown to be untrue and his birth in Worcester has been established. Jonathan had a practice in Stourbridge for a number of years from 1782 to 1785. His membership of the Lunar Society ended following fierce arguments with his colleague William Withering over authorship of a book. He married Ann Rogers, a “minor poet” at Dronfield in 1784. The marriage was four months after the birth of Jonathan and Ann’s first child John Rogers Stokes (1784 – 1818), and Jonathan does not appear on the baptismal record. Their second son John Allen Stokes was born in Shrewsbury in 1786, being baptized in a Presbyterian Meeting House. They had other children. Of particular note are Anna Honora Seward Stokes (1791-1792) and Honora Anna Seward Stokes (b1794) both named after the poet Anna Seward, the "Swan of Lichfield” with whom they were close friends.

The 1822 Fowler Map of Kingswinford Parish


In 1788, Rebecca Stokes, at that point a widow, was involved in the sale of a plot of land on which the Red House Glassworks was built in Wordsley in the parish of Kingswinford. She clearly owned other properties in the area, and the 1822 Fowler map of the parish showed Jonathan, as her heir, holding a number of scattered plots across the parish, mainly concentrated in the area enclosed by the Ashwood Hay Enclosure Act of 1776 and the Wordsley and Brettell Lane areas. These amounted to around 200 acres (85 hectares) in total of mainly arable land, with a few domestic properties. These holdings made him the fourth larges landowner in the parish behind Lord Dudley (862.hecrares), John Hodgetts Hodgetts-Foley, Esq.(381 hectares) and the trustees of the late John Keeling, a former agent and steward of the Dudley Estate (243 hectares) The tithe map of 1840 shows that by this time. these were in the hands of his son John Allen Stokes. How the Stokes came into the ownership of such extensive lands in Kingswinford is not clear. One possible route comes from a recorded marriage in 1781 between Nancy Freeman, who was one of the (several) illegitimate children of John Keeling, and one William Stokes. Links with either Jonathan however cannot be demonstrated, so this must be conjectural. Keeling did however provide generously for his illegitimate offspring, and this might be another example of his provision.

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