James Pobjay, Maltster

Portrait of James PobjayJames Pobjay was a member of a prosperous non-conformist Frome family. His grandfather Isaac (1674-1737) and father John (1703-76) were tilers during the rapid expansion of Frome in the heyday of the Somerset woollen cloth trade. In 1695 a plot of building land 18ft x 168ft was leased by Richard Yerbury to Isaac in what was to become Trinity Street, with plots on either side leased to members of the Coombes. A house in Trinity Street leased in 1774 is described as having John Pobjoy's house and garden on its south-east side. Leases, rate-books, wills, the 1785 census and 1799 survey of Frome record a number of properties being held by James, the eldest of his siblings to survive. His main abode was a house and orchard in Welshmill Lane leased by his father in 1745. James was a brewer by profession.

A letter written by James to Molly Perry in 1770 while they were courting has survived, and so have portraits of them. Molly was companion - or perhaps servant - to two ladies in Bath at the time, and James's letter is moving in its combination of grace and awkwardness. He begs her not to "distress my mind with the thoughts of a rival: whose merit may be still greater, nor Affections less than mine," confessing that he is "the greatest Dupe in the art of Love and the least Scholar in the School of Venus." He deplores "the Irregularity of your Lady's our's, and ye other illconveniency's you must incounter, especially for concience Sake", but hopes it will all be made up to her "in ye event of Providence", going on to assure her that he will not acquaint his friends of her menial situation. Portrait of Molly Pobjay

Referring to a letter he has recently received from Molly, James thanks her for expressing concern for his safe return to Frome, which had been "not without fear, as I heard at the Inn of some outrages being committed by ruffins near Bath the night before." He closes with the assurance that "May Gods grace be Suffitient for your, to leade guide and direct you in all ye various Scenes of Life to pure & perfect paths of peace & Holiness, is ye prayer of your Sincear friend, & great Admirer of your Virtues." There is a postscript, however, in which James prays Molly to "overlook what you saw amiss in me Sunday & at this time," and to write back soon.

James and Molly married in 1771. The records of Badcox Lane Baptist Church note that on 19th Nov 1771"Mrs Pobjoy gave in her experiences and made a profession of her Faith," and that Mary Pobjoy was baptised in Feb 1772. In 1776 "James Pobjoy made a profession of his faith before the Church and was approved of a person worthy of a Name and Place in Godžs House," but in 1782 "signed his Resignation of Church Fellowship in a letter to the Pastor... and... confirmed his resignation by not taking steps towards returning to his Place." James is further mentioned in the pastor's notes in 1800 for bringing the "false Charge agst the Church and its Ministers" that persons had been buried in the church's burial ground who were not members.

The pastor's notebook records Molly's death on 1st May 1794. James and Molly did not have children, nor did James's brother John, a cardmaker who left property worth several thousand pounds. When James died in 1806, his estate was divided among the families of his two sisters, Jemima Hawkins, whose husband Thomas was a soap-boiler, and Tryphena Newport, whose husband Samuel was a victualler.

The portraits and letter were handed down in the Newport family, and the Pobjoy connection was remembered into the 20th century, when they were purchased from Dorothy Abigail Pobjoy Newport by the family of Mr Alan Sutton, whose antiques business is still located a few doors away from St John's church. It is through Mr Sutton's kindness that I have copies of them.