Jane’s Place is a tiny cul-de-sac at the top of Chester Street (Coton Hill) in Shrewsbury, nearly opposite the turn to Berwick Road. The ‘Jane’ in question was the wife of John Simpson, the builder and civil engineer considered in the previous article.
Jane Simpson (1763-1829, née Perrett) came from the Erlestoke area of Wiltshire. John Simpson was employed by George Steuart the architect on the rebuilding of Erlestoke Manor from 1786. Presumably he met Jane during that time, and they were married in July 1788. After Steuart’s urgent plea to Simpson to go to Shrewsbury to rescue the building of St Chad’s, they arrived in the town in May 1790, living initially in Hill’s Lane, then Milk Street, and finally Belmont, a progression that reflected the family’s increasing prosperity.
Jane soon became pregnant, and twin girls, Jane and Mary, were safely delivered in the spring of 1791. Considering that the maternal mortality rate for twin births was then nearly 20% (higher still for a first pregnancy such as this), Jane’s safe delivery must have been an enormous relief. Their joy was to be short-lived however, since Mary died in October the following year. A couple who shared the same grief was Matthew and Janet Davidson. Matthew Davidson (1755-1819) was a boyhood friend of Thomas Telford and a fellow stonemason, whom Telford recruited to supervise the building of Montford Bridge. In March 1792 the Davidsons had a son Thomas, but he died at a similar age to Mary Simpson, and the babies were buried together in the cemetery of Swan Hill Congregational Church. On a happier note, John and Jane Simpson had another daughter Marianne (known as Mary Ann, or just Ann) in October 1793, and the Davidsons had another son, also called Thomas, in February 1794. Much later, when the Davidsons had moved back to Scotland, this Thomas was sent back to Shropshire to be apprenticed to an apothecary in Oswestry, during which time John Simpson kept a fatherly eye on the young man, and doubtless the Simpson household became a home from home.
Swan Hill Congregational Church was an important part of Jane Simpson’s life, and she became a full communicant of the Church in 1802. There had been Independents or Congregationalists in Shrewsbury since at least the Civil War, but this particular church had been founded in 1767 after a breakaway from the Presbyterian Church in the High Street when the latter adopted Unitarianism. To be part of an active and caring group must have helped Jane during her husband’s long absences working away, especially on Telford’s projects in Scotland. One area of the Church’s life in which the family was active was ‘The Sick Man’s Friend and Lying-in Charity’, which gave practical and medical help to those who were sick or had recently had a baby.
John Simpson died quite suddenly when Jane was still in her early 50s. Sadly, her final years were clouded by disputes over her husband’s will, but that is another story!