In the summer of 1798 Fanny Burney the novelist (to give her a more familiar maiden name), her husband, Monsieur d'Arblay, and their little boy settled in a little house at Westhumble in Surrey, near Juniper Hill. In a letter to her sister, she describes some neighbours who had also come to the village for the summer:
"One new acquaintance we have found it impossible to avoid. The only house in Westhumble village, which is not occupied by farmers or poor people, is now inhabited by a large family from the City, of the name of Dickinson. They called here immediately upon our establishing ourselves in our cottage. It was indispensable to return a first call … Mr. Dickinson, or Captain Dickinson, as his name-card says, is a very shy, but seems a sensible man, and his lady is open, chatty, fond of her children, and anxious to accomplish them.
He (Thomas DICKINSON) held a commission in the Navy, as had his father before him.
Thomas, born in 1754, followed his father into the Navy and into the Office of Ordnance, and succeeded him in his appointment as Superintendent of the Ordnance Transports at Woolwich (see Wikipedia) on his death in May 1781. The post only brought in £100 a year and travelling charges, " without any perquisites or gratuities whatever,'' but carried with it the right to pleasant quarters in the Tower of London. These, his pay, and the patrimony he had inherited from his father, made it possible for Thomas Dickinson to marry.
The marriage between Frances de Brissac and Thomas Dickinson, which took place on June 20, 1781, seems to have been a happy one. They complemented one another; he was, in Madame d' Arblay's words, " shy and sensible "; she warm hearted, talkative, an admirable hostess, and at bottom, no less sensible than her husband. She bore him four (sic) sons and five daughters, one of whom died in infancy.
The Ordnance transports in Captain Dickinson's charge plied chiefly between the Tower and the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich. In 1803 it was decided that he should move his headquarters, and his home, from Tower Hill to Woolwich. He secured a lease of a pleasant house called Bramblebury from the Clothworkers' Company. It had been built some thirty years earlier as a neat three-storied box of a house, with a little pavilion on either side, in an unpretentious yet formal style. It had a good dining-room and library, and a double drawing-room symmetrically disposed on either side of a hall with an open staircase with turned balusters, and any number of decent bedrooms above. It stood on rising ground at the end of a long drive, with a great chestnut at the entrance, and from the drawing-room there was a lovely view, framed in trees, over a Thames gay with sailing ships to the wide skies and low hills beyond. The garden boasted fine cedars, and gravelled paths wide enough for conversation; there were a couple of meadows, and a neglected and picturesque wood, the joy of children and sketchers.
Bramblebury from the time of the Dickinsons. In rural Kent and in its own parkland.
Transcription (by Penelope A Phelps Forrest June 2020)
Thomas Dickinson Will (Thomas Dickinson R.N. 21 Oct. 1756 - 24 May 1828)
Being in sound mind & body I do this day 18th January 1815 do give and bequeath unto my wife Frances at my decease all my property and effects of every kind whatsoever and or wheresoever. And I do nominate and appoint … whole and … my sole Executrix …my property of every kind of which I may be possessed at the time of my decease to her entire disposal. Signed at my Office in the Royal Arsenal Woolwich this 10th day of January 1815. (Signed) Thos, Dickinson.
Appeared personally Frances Dickinson of Bramblebury in the parish of Plumstead in the Country of Kent, Spinster, and John Dickinson of the Old Bailey in the city of London, Stationer, and being sworn on the Holy Evangelists severally made oath that they are respectively natural & lawful children of the said Thomas Dickinson late of Bramblebury aforesaid, a Commander in the Royal Navy and late Superintendent of the shipping in the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich Esquire deceased and for many years before and whereas to the time of his death they have frequently seen the said deceased witness and inscribe his name, having thereby become well acquainted with this manner and the nature of handwriting and subscription. And these deponents having now in the attention perused and inspected the paper writing accounts hereunto …… purporting to be and contain the Last Will and Testament of the said deceased declaring him in sound mind and body. ‘I do this 18th January 1815 give and bequeath to my dear Wife’ and ending ‘this signed at my Office in the Royal Arsenal Woolwich this 18th day of January 1815’ and thus subscribed ‘Thos. Dickinson.’ They say they verify and in their consciences believe the whole body, series and contents of the said Will beginning and ending as aforesaid together with the said subscription ‘Thos. Dickinson’ set hereto as aforesaid to be of the proper handwriting and subscribing of the said deceased. (Signed) Frances Dickinson. John Dickinson. On 1st July 1828 the said Frances Dickinson and John Dickinson were duly sworn to the truth of this Affidavit before me J. Addams Junr. present H.J.Merceler Not. Pub.
Proved at London 3rd July 1828 before the Worshipful …… before Addams D. of Law and Surrogate by the Oath of Frances Dickinson (Widow) the relict the sole Executrix to whom administration was granted being first sworn duly to administer.