Lease by Governors of Charitable Charter School, Co. Fermanagh [see D1390/8], to Charles Sproule Esq., Grennan
PRONI Reference : D1390/44/2
Date : 20 January 1778
Description : Lease by Governors of Charitable Charter School, Co. Fermanagh [see D1390/8], to Charles Sproule Esq., Grennan, Co. Tyrone, farmer, of part of the town and lands of Crevenish called Sconcehillpoint, Co. Fermanagh.
I was anxious to see this deed, partly for its information, and partly for the opportunity just to hold it in my hands - one of those lovely old documents with the wonderful seal and signature of Charles Sproule of Grennan. Then there was the information in the document itself, and here, yet again, was a new mystery – possibly.
I knew exactly what this deed was. Charles Sproule of Grennan, who Jack Elder had called Charles of ‘Upper Grennan’, was the man who took out this deed. This lease was one of 3 leases signed on that same day, 20th Jan 1778, where Charles Sproule of Grennan was leasing land from the Governors of the Vaughan Charter School in Fermanagh. Each lease was for a different townland in Fermanagh, and Charles put his son George as lessee for the land in the townland of Crillan and his son Robert got land in the townland of Feddans. We don’t have copies of those two deeds, just a one line record of each which tells us that they existed. But the third deed, for Sconce Hill and Rabbit Island in Fermanagh, does exist, and it was this one that I wanted to see in PRONI.
Now this one was a mystery from the get go. Where exactly was this Rabbitt Island? There is a townland of that name in Fermanagh, but I didn’t think it was there. And then the name of the ‘lessee’ on the lease is odd too. I knew that the the one line record had the name on the lease as ‘Charles Sproule’, and that had to be Charles Sproule of Grennan himself – not one of his sons, as was on the other two leases. Was he holding it for a younger son? Or perhaps it was just an investment. There was never a Sproule in later records in any place in Fermanagh of that name – so what happened to the Rabbitt Island land?
The 1778 deed in PRONI revealed all.
Charles was leasing, “that part of the town and lands of Crevenish called Sconce Hill point containing ten acres together with the Rabbitt Island containing eleven acres adjoining thereto”.
That gives us an exact position for our Rabbitt Island. It is the one that is actually in Lower Loch Erne, near Kesh in County Fermanagh.
Charles Sproule was leasing from the Governors of the Charter School. This was a charity set up through the Will of George Vaughan in 1785 who left his Castle Hassett estate to be held in trust as a charity to provide a school for the local children. The land that Charles Sproule leased was, ‘in his actual possession’, that is, there wasn’t a tenant there, Charles Sproule already had this land.
Where this gets really interesting is firstly with the named ‘lives’ on this lease, and secondly with addendums attached to the document.
As was the custom then, the length of the lease was not given in years, as in, for example, a 30 year lease. It was given in ‘lives’, that is, as long as the named person or people in the deed were living. The deed expired, or had to be renewed, when the last named person died.
The ‘lives’ named on this deed are;
“The Reverend Howard St George of Ardvarney in the County of Fermanagh, Arthur John St George his eldest son aged four years or thereabouts and Capel Edward St George his second son aged four months and for and during the lives and life of the survivors and survivor of them and the said Charles Sproule his heirs and assigns”
3 of the lives are the St George family. So is there a connection with this St. George family? Well, I found that the names alone do not signify anything. When I looked at a list of all the Vaughan Charity lands, many had Dr Howard St George and his children as the named lives. So this wasn’t unusual.
However, the townland where Howard St George lives in 1788, Ardvarney, definitely rings a loud bell! Howard St. George is the rector in the parish Drumkeeran and also of Magheraculmoney at that time, but he is living in Ardvarney. Round about that same time, a large chunk of Ardvarney in Fermanagh was leased by another Sproule, Joseph Sproule of Curraghmulkin.  Joseph of Curraghamulkin would be a very close relative of Charles Sproule of Upper Grennan - probably his uncle. Joseph of Curraghamulkin would certainly have been aquainted with the local Rector.
(Now there will be Grennan researchers jumping up and down in their seats at this point, for they not only know the name, ‘St George’, but some of them actually have this St George name as part of their own! There is a whole line of Sproules who use the name, ‘St George Sproule’. Now, just hold that thought for a minute… we’ll get there.)
The two addendums attached to the deed also have the name of Howard St. George.
The first is a piece of paper stuck to the bottom of the deed, and on it is a little map, where it tells us that the land at Sconce Hill on the mainland, some 10 acres, are to be ‘taken off’ for the Rev. Howard St George. So Charles Sproule of Grennan is keeping Rabbitt Island and he is giving, by the look of this, the Sconce Hill land on the mainland to the Rev. Howard St George.
Two years after leasing this land, Charles is signing over all of it to the Rev Howard St George for the sum of 5 shillings – the same price he paid for it. I find that a bit odd. Charles did not sell it back to the Board of Governors of the Vaughan Charity School, from whom he had leased it, but he is signing it over to the Rev. Doctor St. George personally himself. Why, I wonder?
The Rev. Howard St George was one of the Governors of the Vaughan Charity School, and he was also the Chaplain – which meant he was effectively running the school. There were later challenges as to how the school was run, and how it was financially managed, and the person reporting on this to the Parliamentary Commission of enquiry was the very same Rev. Dr. Howard St. George. In 1814, he submitted information with a list of the leaseholders. Strangely, Charles Sproule of Grennan is still the named lessee of Rabbit Island and Sconce Hill – not the Rev. Dr. Howard St. George.
|Parliamentary Papers, House of Commons, |
Report from Commissioners 1813-1814
I don’t know what is going on here, nor am I suggesting anything nefarious. I do think it possible that it was a commission, a payment, from Charles to the Rev. St George for the leasing of the Crillan and Feddans land at a very small cost. Now this money may not have gone into the Reverand’s back pocket, but rather it might have been a charitable donation.
What it definitely does show is that there is some kind of personal relationship between Howard Molyneux St George and Charles Sproule of Upper Grennan with a link to Joseph of Curraghamulkin and the Ardvarney land. I was more convinced of this personal relationship when I noticed the name of of one of the witnesses, the name Charles Lucas.
Charles Lucas is the brother of the wife of Howard St George, Mary Lucas of Castle Shane in Monaghan. Charles later became High Sherriff of Monaghan. So the witness is Howard St George’s brother-in-law who lives in Monaghan.
So now we have some kind of a connection between Rev. Doctor Howard St. George and the Grennan Sproules in the late 1780s. Now we move to the next generation.
Howard St. George and his wife Mary Lucas had a son, Henry Lucas St George, who later became the Rector of Dromore, County Tyrone. It is this son of Howard St. George, who's name, ‘St George’, was claimed by a line of Grennan Sproules.
John Sproule, and his wife Elizabeth Wallace, were also Grennan Sproules, from the family that Jack Elder termed ‘Another Grennan Family’. This was the less wealthy end of Grennan, with hilly land overlooking the affluent land of Charles of Upper Grennan.
James Sproule, the eldest son of John and Elizabeth, had married Ann Irwin, daughter of James Irwin and Isabella Osborne of Letterboy, in 1837. Ann, the wife, had died in 1852, and James had found it difficult to support his family. The Rector of Dromore at that time was our Henry St George, and he and his wife took in three of the Sproule children, George, James and Wallace, and looked after them with great care and love. One of these children, James, who had lived with the Rev. Henry St George, later gave each one of his children the name ‘St George’ in his honour, and this line has the name ‘St George Sproule’ to this day.
Why did the Rev Henry Lucas St George take in the 3 Grennan Sproule children? We don't know, other that pure Christian charity, which that couple definitely had.
But there does seem to be an odd intertwining between the St George family and the Sproules of Grennan, or is this just coincidental?
To be honest, I don’t know!
 This is quoted in a deed PRONI Ref D674/19, which gives a list of previous Ardvarney deeds.
 The Family of James Sproule of Grennan and Ann Irwin/Irvine by Jo McCoy