John Tregonwell
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John Tregonwell (1625 - 1681)

John Tregonwell
Born in Dorset, Englandmap
Ancestors ancestors
[sibling(s) unknown]
Husband of — married about 1652 [location unknown]
[children unknown]
Died in Milton Abbas, Dorset, Englandmap
Profile manager: Helen Ford private message [send private message]
Profile last modified | Created 15 Apr 2016
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John Tregonwell was the son of John Tregonwell and his wife Jane Freke[1] He was born on December 7th 1625 and baptised on the December 11th in the parish church at Iwerne Courtney (Shroton) Dorset (substantially rebuilt by her Jane's father Sir Thomas Freke, only 15 years earlier)[2] [3]

As a child, John had a lucky escape from death. When he was about five years old, he was taken by his nurse onto the roof of the transept of the Abbey church, whilst some repairs were taking place. She was distracted and John climbed over the parapet but overbalanced and fell 60 feet to the ground. The shocked nurse rushed down the steps to the church yard fully expecting her charge to be dead. She is said to have found John sitting on the grass, unhurt and picking daisies. It is thought that the full dress worn by the young boy inflated and acted as a parachute, saving his life [4]

He married Jane Fenn, in 1652 [5] (according to several authors, including Hutchins ,Burke and also Gilbert in the reference given above Jane Fenn was a daughter of Sir Robert Fenn, Sheriff of London and Lord Mayor of London. However there was no Lord Mayor of London called Robert Fenn . The Mayor in 1637 was a Richard Fenn . Jane appears to be his niece. She was the daughter of his brother Robert and sister of another Richard who died without issue and from whom she inherited the manor of Christchurch in Hampshire .This estate then passed to her daughter Mary and her husband [6]

They had 5 children
Frances, buried 4th February 1666/7
John , buried 13 October 1677
Sarah, buried 5 April 1668
Katherine, buried11 August 1683
Mary, who married 1) Sir Francis Lutterell, 2) Sir Jacob Banckes
John was High Sheriff of Dorset in 1670[7]

He died on 20 Jan 1680/1 and was buried on 29th Jan 1680/81 in the Church at Milton Abbas [8]

In his will proved in April 1681, John bequeathed a chained library of valuable books to be kept in the vestry of Milton Abbey church.[9]

His wife erected a memorial brass recording this and his earlier miraculous escape

‘To the memory of John Tregonwell, late of (Milton Abbas, in the County Dorset, Esqr. who dyed the 20th of January, 1680, and by his last will and testament gave all the bookes within this Vesty to the use of this Abbey Church for ever as a thankful acknowledgment of God’s wonderfull merçy in his preservation when he fell from the top of this Church is this Monument erected at the proper cost and charges of Jane Tregonwell, his relict and executrix.’ [10] [11]


Many sources including the Dorset Historic Churches site and also a placard in Milton Abbey itself suggest that the 'miraculous escape from death occurred in 1605,This would mean that the incident happened to this John Tregonwell's father At the same time the story is attributed to the son of John and Jane Freke. This couple did not marry until 1624 and this John was their first child born a year later (Burke ,Gilbert cited below) It is also clear from the will and from the memorial inscription that the John who died in 1680 was the John who bequeathed the chained library as a thank offering. In 2016, the South transept where the portrait of young John Tregonwell in his life saving pinafores normally hangs was under restoration so the portrait had been removed. In the lady chapel of Milton Abbey that was being used as a vestry/storeroom, a photograph of the painting was on the wall. Inscription John Tregonwell 1625-1690 (the latter date is certainly incorrect, on the evidence I have found so far, I think this birth year is more likely to be correct hence the incident would have taken place c 1630 )


  1. Burke History of the Landed Gentry 1827 Vol 2 p404
  2. Dorset History Centre, Iwerne Courtney Parish register
    John Tregonwell the son of John Tregonwell esq and Jane his wife was borne December 7th and baptised December 11th 1625
  3. An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Dorset, Volume 3, Central. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1970. p126-131
  4. Charles H Mate Bournemouth: The Biography 1910 reprinted 2014 chapter 6
  5. Charles Sandoe Gilbert An Historical Survey of the County of Cornwall, 1820, vol 2 p1, p288
  6. Victoria County History; A History of the County of Hampshire, Vol 5, 1912, Christchurch p 83-101
  7. Dorset Natural History And Archaeological Society. Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Antiquarian Field Club, Vol. 28. 1919
  8. Milton Abbas Parish Register, Dorset History Centre, Dorchester.
  9. National Archives, PCC wills, Prob 11 Piece 366: North, Quire Numbers 48-94 (1681)
  10. Charles Mate op cited
  11. Dorset Natural History and Archaelogical Society, Proceedings. Vol 28 p230 W de C Prideaux, The Memorial Brasses of Dorset

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Categories: Milton Abbas, Dorset