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London farms to Quex Museum, via Africa, a journey

The London properties of the Powell-Cotton family -  an 18 month survey of 9 boxes of deeds, returned to Quex several years ago from The London Metropolitan Archive.

The documents date from 1555-1935. They provide evidence of property ownership and the sources of finance which ultimately enabled Major Powell-Cotton’s worldwide explorations and the setting up of his Museum.  This was not a straight line but involved purchases and sales, inheritance and even some changes of name by deed-poll.

Records of the purchase of farmland stretch back to 1555, long before the family were involved. In the mid 1700s John Powell added to his estates by making purchases in areas such as Kilburn, Hammersmith, Fulham and Parsons Green.  Some of this land had been church property.

The names of well-known personalities are mentioned such as Richard Myddleton of Chirk Castle near Wrexham, Sir Michael Warton MP, once reputed to be the richest man in England and Sir James Perryman.

Early documents include references to waifs and stray, chattels and fugitives – it seems all of life is there.  Inventories describe woodland, detailing the types of trees.

The earlier documents are often indentures – so called because two copies were made, one for each party, written on the same sheet of parchment and separated with a wavy cut.  Later the cut edges could be compared to ensure documents referred to the same transaction.

Many documents detail land sales and tenancy agreements.  Some refer to trustees and developers.  Others mention the building of waterworks for the supply of London.  Marriage settlements are sometimes included to prove rights to the land.

Property ownership in the 18th and early 19th centuries provided the Powell and Cotton families with income from the rents paid by tenants.  Later, sales of land for building development as London expanded brought in more money. 

Such a substantial portfolio required careful management.  In the time of John Powell Powell (1769-1849) the family lawyer was Charles Deare.  A correspondence survives between him and John’s wife Charlotte, showing she was heavily involved in estate business.

Major Powell-Cotton was a prudent businessman, no doubt motivated by his desire to fund his travels.  As well as his property portfolio he invested in numerous businesses, including a local brickworks in Birchington.

The nine London boxes have given a unique insight into how property has been used by owners – to provide income, to fund marriages between families and to enable the development of our Capital City.  Today the memory of the London properties is marked by familiar Kent names given to many of the roads, in West Hampstead, Kilburn and Fulham.

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