History of the Jane Cart Trusts

Born in 1653, Jane Cart was the youngest daughter of Elizabeth and Thomas Chew, haberdasher of Dunstable. Jane married James Cart, of Soaper Lane in the parish of St. Pancras in the City of London, on 26th June 1684; she was 31 years old and he was nearly 25. James is described as being a citizen, a merchant and a distiller and he was also a churchwarden at St Mary le Bow in London for a time.  Jane had nine children in the first eleven years of marriage. Three died as infants and, of the remaining six, only one would reach the age of 41. James died in 1706 aged 46, leaving Jane a widow. In 1706 and in 1717, three more of her children died followed by two sons in 1720 and 1722.  Jane and her only surviving son, James, were then left to run the family distillery business in London.  James died in 1731 aged 41, meaning that Jane became the only family member living and consequently she was sole owner of the family wealth, making her probably the richest person to have an interest in Dunstable.

Added to this inheritance, when her brother, William Chew, had earlier died in 1712, Jane inherited five farms in Studham, Upper Gravenhurst, Edlesborough and Kensworth, seven properties in Dunstable, a piece of land in the City of London, behind the Boar Inn, and William Chew’s London house. The whole was valued at £9216, producing annual income of £488.16.4d. In addition to this legacy, Jane had also ealier inherited her mother’s property on the west side of the High Street (North), not far from the crossroads. This was probably the site of her father’s haberdashery business and also the family home.

Jane’s wealth made it possible to be extremely generous to the town and the Church, both in her lifetime and in her will. Many of the gifts made in her lifetime would appear to be linked with the deaths of members of her family and these gifts included:

1715 Chew’s Charity School

January 1, 1715

Relates to her younger brother William Chew who left money to Jane and her sister as his intention was to set up a school for 40 poor boys of Dunstable.  

1722 Painting of Last Supper for Dunstable Priory Church

January 1, 1722

Said to be at the time the largest painting in the country at 30 feet high, the work of art was painted by Sir James Thornhill, George I’s Sarjeant Painter. Although originally intended for the church of St. Mary le Bow, the Rector refused to have it in his church, so Jane and her sister Frances bought the picture and hung it on the east wall of the Dunstable church. The painting is described as being a group seated beneath a triumphal arch and supported by composite columns. During the Victorian restoration of the Priory Church, the painting was pierced by a scaffold pole and then exposed to the weather when the roof was removed. It was eventually rolled up and stored in the tower, where it gradually rotted and subsequently thrown away.

1723 6 Alms-houses in High Street South, Dunstable

January 1, 1723

These were believed to have been bought as a memorial to her son Thomas Chew Cart who died in 1722. The houses, next door to Chew’s Charity School, were for six poor women, widows or spinsters, who were communicant members of the Church of England in the Parish of Dunstable. Applicants would be considered from other areas such as Caddington, Kensworth, or Houghton Regis, if there were insufficient applicants from Dunstable.

1728 Communion Plate for Priory Church Dunstable

January 1, 1728

Jane’s sister, Frances Ashton, died in 1727. In the following year, Jane gave a set of Communion plate to the Priory Church and the gift may well have been in memory of her sister. The set consisted of two silver chalices and covers, two silver flagons and a silver alms dish. Only the flagons and the alms dish survive, the rest having been stolen early in the 20th century. Each piece is inscribed: ‘1 Aug AD 1728 Offered to God and Given to the CHURCH of Dunstable by JANE CART, Widow & Relic of JAMES CART late Citizen of LONDON, and Daughter of THOMAS CHEW formerly of Dunstable and Elizabeth his wife.’ For many years these items were kept in a bank vault. Early in the 21st century they were presented to St Albans Abbey, where they may still be seen.

1732 Weekly Sermon & Three-Decker Pulpit in Dunstable Priory Church

January 1, 1732

Jane introduced a weekly sermon or lecture to be given on a Sunday afternoon promoting the worship of God and the spiritual welfare of the inhabitants of Dunstable. In the same year she donated a three – decker pulpit.

1734 The Priory Church Tower Clock

January 1, 1734

In 1734, Jane ‘presented to the Minister and Churchwardens of the Parish a Compleat new Large Clock’ and pledged £1 a year for its repair ‘for ever’. The clock was mounted in the Tower with no hands or external face and struck the hours only which could be heard across all Dunstable. The hands and the face were fitted in 1899 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee two years previously. In 1972 an electric mechanism was fitted which saved the expensive and time-consuming weekly winding. The Jane Cart Trust is still responsible today for the upkeep of the clock.


No. 24 – All that is left of the Carts’ House In London

James Cart slab which is in the Chapel in the Crypt of St Mary le Bow in London


Thanks to Local Historian Hugh Garrod


For more information on the history, click on either of the links below: