Chew Magna to Hollywood, an afterword

Since writing  the article Chew Magna to Hollywood (here) about my distant cousins, the actors House Peters snr. and jnr., I have obtained and read a copy of Another Side of Hollywood, the autobiography of House Peters jnr. It clarifies many points about their respective lives and careers and I felt that, rather than amend the article, I would add this afternote to mention a few facts that are incorrect in my previous article, and also to highlight some inconsistancies between it and the book.

I mentioned in my article that House Peters snr. appreared with his son in Rebel without a Cause, which starred James Dean. This is wholly wrong as Junior’s book makes clear – he does not mention it and would surely do so were it true. It is a fact I picked up from the internet without checking! This makes one of my closing remarks regarding Senior’s career false.

Regarding the life of his father, which Junior recounts, and which he obviously had first-hand from Senior, there are many errors; I assume that Senior richly embroidered his past, possibly hiding facts he did not wish his family to know for some reason. First of all though, there is another statement in my article which needs correcting. I state that Robert House Peters arrived in the USA in 1901, and this was taken from the 1920 US Census. It seems that this is wrong – the autobiography has him arriving in 1910. Perhaps this was a mistake on the Census form, as I see no reason why it should not be true. He had lived for some time in South Africa, prior ro his emigration, and Junior includes a mining document dated 1908 which would confirm his presence there.

More serious are the many incorrect facts that Senior must have invented for his backstory. The basics of his birth and his family’s time in Bristol seem correct (he gives his birth date as March 12 1881, which does raise the problem of where he was when the 1881 Census was taken in April of that year), but it is then implied that both his parents died in Bristol, his mother in 1885 and father in 1891 (they certainly died in Australia in 1896 and 1903 respectively) and then his two elder sisters abandoned him and left for Australia ‘to find husbands’. It is certain the whole family emigrated to Australia around 1883/4. Strangely enough he maintained that he visited Australia whilst working as a merchant seaman, and decided to trek from Adelaide to Sydney ‘across a desert’ (is there one between those two cities?). Now Adelaide and Sydney are the two cities in Australia where I can find records of the family living, and where Senior attended school. Junior recounts that his father did receive letters from his sisters after becoming a famous film star, but would always destroy them without discussing their contents. He obviously held a grudge for something, but it wasn’t for abandoning him in Bristol.

Another problem is the account Senior gave of his exploits in the Boer War; he claims that he enlisted in the British Army and was sent to South Africa where he joined Kitchener’s Scouts. I have checked the rolls of the Scouts and his name does not appear. There is also no record of him enlisting in the British Army. Perhaps he did take part, but it might have been with a locally recuited force, or possibly an Australian unit. His stories of prospecting for gold do seem to be true though, as the document shown in the book, staking a mining claim, bears out.

His other exploits are harder to confirm so some of them may be true, or they may be pur fiction; but the fact remains that House Peters snr. was a leading star in the early days of film and should anyone wish to see him, several of his movies are available on YouTube.

Reference: House Peters jr. Another Side of Hollywood, Madison NC, Empire Publishing Inc.,2000.

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Chew Magna to Hollywood!

 

Hollywood_Sign_(Zuschnitt)

When one’s research of direct ancestors seems to hit a brick wall, the immediate response is to change the line of attack and look at a different branch, or sometimes, to chase the story of forebears’ siblings and their descendants. With the onset of DNA testing in genealogy, this is a very wise course, as distant cousins can sometimes be found using DNA databases, and having a ready-made paper trail helps with confirming links.

I have spent a great deal of time researching the Peters family of Chew Magna (here) and in doing so have traced many of the descendants of my gggg grandfather, Robert Peters who died in 1797. Robert was a farmer in Chew and he and his wife, Mary (née Lee) had eight children, one daughter and seven sons. I am descended from their fourth son, James (1776-1850) who was an agricultural labourer like the youngest son Edward (1783-1837). The two sons born in-between them, John and Hugh  were probably twins, both being baptised in 1781. They both became farmers like their father and farmed some of the fields that had been in the family since the early 18th century. Of the elder children, the daughter Betty married William Cox, whilst the two eldest, Robert (1767-1841) and Tobias (born 1769) do not seem to have married; the third son, Arthur was a carpenter and married Susannah Spering at St Andrews, Chew Magna on September 23 1793. It was in tracing their descendants that I found two Hollywood film stars, a most unexpected result.

Arthur and Susannah’s children were Daniel (1794), Arthur (1796), Robert (1797), Samuel (1802) and Susanna (1805), all born in Chew Magna. The youngest boy, Samuel, later described as a labourer and haulier, married Ann Williams in 1827, also at St Andrews. They, in their turn, had eight children and the one who is of interest was the fifth child, Robert, born in 1838 and baptised on March 18th of that year. Robert led a fascinating life which requires further investigation, but the salient points discovered so far are his marriage at the age of 35 to Mary Jane House, and the birth of three children to the couple. The marriage took place at Nailsea parish church, where both Robert and Mary Jane  gave their respective fathers as Samuel – both being ‘farmers’. Mary Jane’s family seem to have been in Nailsea for several generations, her father moving to Stanton Drew for many years (and where Mary Jane was born and baptised in 1841) and returning to Nailsea in retirement. On the 1871 census Mary Jane is living there with her widowed father, although she appears in 1861 and 1851 (in Islington and Bristol respectively) with an older sister, Louisa. Samuel House had died in January of 1873 and the marriage of Robert and Mary Jane took place the following month, although the actual date has been missed off the register.

Another matter of interest is Robert Peters’ occupation in 1873. I have not been able to find him on the 1871 census, but that may not be surprising as the marriage certificate gives his occupation as ‘Customs Detective Officer’, whilst the marriage licence intriguingly states ‘a Detective in the Chinese Force’ – could it be that he had been in Hong Kong or Shanghai? In any case, the couple did not reside in England for any length of time; two daughters were born to them, Mary (1874) and Emily (1877), both in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. This is recorded in the 1881 census, which finds the family back in England – in Thunderbolt Street, Bristol, where Robert is described as a publican. Australian records give the daughters full names as Mary Jane Eliza and Emily Blanche. The latter was actually baptised at St Johns, Bedminster on September 14, 1877 where Robert is recorded as being a licensed victualler of the New Inn, East Street. The New Inn was on the corner of East Street and Regent Street and ideally (or not?) opposite a Temperance Hall.

New Inn Bedminster map

Site of the New Inn on Bedminster Parade

It was demolished in 1900 for an extension to one of the Wills’ Tobacco factories.

New Inn Bedminster site

The New Inn was situated where the corner building with a dome appears in this photograph of c1905. Bedminster Library had been built on the site of the Temperance Hall

Robert was recorded as taking up the licence of the Masonic Tavern, Thunderbolt Street on June 25 1880 and he stayed there for several years. In March 1883 however, The Western Daily Press carried an advertisement offering the Masonic Tavern to let, as the ‘owner going back to Melbourne’. There is one final record of the family in British records; the birth of a son, Robert House Peters is registered in the April to June quarter 1881 in Bristol, and he was baptised at St Johns, Bedminster on May 8, 1881. The date of his birth causes some problems. Later records in the USA give March 12, 1880, but this must be a mistake for 1881. However the census for 1881 was taken on the night of April 3rd and if Robert House’s birth occurred on March 12th of that year he should have been recorded on it; but he is not included in the household at the Masonic Tavern. 

 

Thunderbolt Street

Thunderbolt Street – the shortest street in Bristol. The Masonic Tavern is the building on the left with a projecting sign and arched windows on the ground floor

At some stage then, the family moved back to Australia. Certainly Mary Jane’s death is recorded in Waterloo, Sydney on March 26, 1891; she was buried in Rookwood Cemetery. Later that year Robert and the children moved to Adelaide, as Robert House Peters was enrolled in Currie Street School on January 15 1892; his previous school is given as ‘Sidney’ (sic) which he left in December of the previous year. Father Robert is described as a labourer. Young Robert House stayed there until the middle of 1894. The South Australia Register of March 26 1896 published in its ‘In Memoriam’ column, a notice which gives the details (incorrectly as the year is shown as 1890) of Mary Jane’s death and which was inserted by ‘her loving children’. No mention of father, Robert. Their address was given as South Terrace, Adelaide. The family had presumably been together at Fenn Street, Adelaide in 1892, as daughter Mary was admitted to the Royal Adelaide Hospital in that year, and a further newspaper report mentions Robert as living there too. 

Mary Jane Eliza married Arthur Pittman in December 1898 and Emily Blanche was to marry Arthur Cole in December, 1903. A few months before the latter event, their father Robert died in the Royal Adelaide Hospital. He had obviously been ill for some time; hospital records show him being admitted on five occasions between July 1902 and March 1903. The final entry records his death on April 18th. There are a few disparities in the records; some state he had been five years in the colony and others eleven years. Also the ship on which he arrived changes from Kaikora to Karkoras, and one mentions Cumawarra, but these are probably down to vagaries of memory or different arrivals. In all the records though, his address is in Norwood, Adelaide and his occupation is ‘Boots’ – presumably employed in a hotel or private service. His daughters remained in South Australia and both had families, and their Silver Weddings are commemorated in newspaper announcements.

Robert House Peters snr

Robert House Peters – ‘House Peters snr.’

A very different life was led by their brother, Robert House Peters. His biography on IMDb states that he ‘sailed around the world’ in his youth and spent time in South Africa as a mining technician, as well as serving in the Boer War. I’ve not been able to confirm any of this, but it seems certain that he arrived in the USA in 1901, according to his 1920 Census return, and at some point established himself as a actor. His first cinema role was in 1913 when he appeared opposite Mary Pickford in In the Bishop’s Carriage. The film was made in New York by the Famous Players Film Company, which employed well-established stage actors of the time, so we can assume that by this date Robert had a serious career in the theatre. In the following year Robert (always known by his stage name, House Peters) moved to California, one of the first movie stars to do so; he also married, the same year, Mae Hilda King, a native of New York. The marriage took place in San Francisco, but soon the couple moved to the Los Angeles area.

House Peters was a major star of the silent movie era; studio publicity described him as ‘The Actor with a Thousand Emotions’ and he usually played the handsome heroic lead, although he admitted that he preferred playing villains. His status can be assessed by the number of leading roles in his early years – five in 1914 and a remarkable nine in 1915 including several directed by Cecil B. DeMille. Among these were The Girl of the Golden West and The Warrens of Virginia, a Civil War epic. His career declined during the twenties, even though he was signed to Universal Studios in 1924 but major roles were few.

Raffles poster 1925

Poster for Raffles, 1925

 

Rose-Marie poster (1928)

Poster for Rose-Marie, 1928

He was, however, the star billing in Raffles (1925) and Prisoners of the Storm (1926), but after Rose-Marie in 1928, he retired. He did return to roles in the cinema on a few occasions, the first time being  the Gene Autry film The Old West in 1952. His final appearance on  screen was in Rebel without a Cause in 1955 when along with his son, House Peters jnr. he is credited as being one of two ‘Officers’. An amazing career, for not many can claim to have appeared on film with both Mary Pickford and James Dean! Robert House Peters died in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles in 1967.

Robert and Mae Peters had four children, Robert House (whose screen name was House Peters jnr.) in 1916, Patricia (1922), Peggy House (1924) who, I think, died young, and Gregory (1926). House Peters jnr. had a long screen career, but was not in the front rank of actors as his father had been.

House_Peters,_Jr

Robert House Peters – ‘House Peters jnr.’

He appeared in around 80 films between 1935 and 1965, normally in  minor roles, quite often as the villain or ‘heavy’; many of them Westerns. In 2000 he received the Golden Boot Award for a lifetime contribution to the Western film genre. He also had an extended television career, beginning in the 1950s, again in largely cowboy series. He was in twelve episodes of The Lone Ranger from 1950 to 1957. Between 1956 and 1966 he played the role of Sheriff Jim Billings in Lassie. He also made many appearances in other TV shows; Perry Mason, 77 Sunset Strip, Gunsmoke and The Twilight Zone amongst others. He also appeared in numerous television advertisements as ‘Mr Clean’, the persona of Proctor and Gamble’s household cleaners.  He once swore that if had not become a star by the age of 50 he would quit show business. True to his word, in 1966 with just the prospect of more Lassie shows ahead, he retired from acting and pursued a successful career in real estate. He died in Los Angeles in 2008, leaving a wife (Lucy, née Pickett) and three children.

 Robert House Peters junior (1916-2008) was an almost exact contemproary of my father, Francis Albert Stephen Bumstead (1915-2002). They were fourth cousins.

For additional views and alterations to this article, read the afterword (here).

Seventeenth Century Voices

 

letter from richard mogg 1618 outside

The outside of Richard Mogg’s letter

I have recently finished reading the complete edition of the diaries of Samuel Pepys, nine volumes of fairly dense text with copious footnotes as well as two volumes of Glossary, Companion and Index (I didn’t read the index by the way). I feel now that I have said goodbye to an old friend and am already suffering from withdrawl symptoms. For all his faults (especially in this ⌗Metoo age) he has proved an illuminating guide to the life and mores of the seventeenth century. Not only does he mix and record his conversations with the highest in the land, the king and his brother, James Duke of York as well as many lords, politicians and naval men, from admirals to boatmen; he also recounts his doings with tradesmen, craftsmen and innkeepers (especially their female staff), musicians, actors and the whole gamut of London life in the 1660s. He also travelled outside the capital, visiting the naval base of Chatham on several occasions as well as various visits to his parents’ home in Huntingdonshire and his former university of Cambridge. On one such visit he returned in a circuitous route travelling to Oxford, Stonehenge, Salisbury and Bristol before returning to London. I was especially interested in the latter as the Pepys’s stayed at an Inn in Wine Street, Bristol, a short distance from my ancestor, John Heale’s baker’s shop in the same street. Perhaps Samuel walked past it and may even have eaten John’s bread at the Inn. 

With the seventeenth century strongly in mind, I’ve taken the opportunity to reread two letters written by ancestors (one a probable forebear) of mine, both written around 15 years before Pepys’ birth, but couched in much the same language, if a little more archaic and formulaic. One, written by John Godfrey in October 1615 to his sister in London, I have dealt with before (here). Interestingly, John’s sister, Elizabeth Goddard lived “at the lower end of Tower Street against Barking Church”. This was a few hundred yards away from the Navy Office house where Samuel Pepys later lived, and it was from the tower of All Hallows, Barking that he surveyed the spread of the Great Fire in 1666.

The other letter was written a little over 400 years ago, on 7th November 1618, by my ancestor, Richard Mogg, about whom I’ve also written here. Later in life Richard was a Bailiff of the Duchy of Cornwall in north Somerset, overseeing several of the Duchy’s manors there, and building fine manor houses at Welton and Farrington Gurney. At the time of writing the letter he may have already been in this position, but, in any case, it shows him recommending himself to the about-to-be-appointed Sheriff of Somerset, John Trevelyan. The letter was written in London, so it may be that Richard, who seems to have always lived in Somerset, was there on business; possibly already concerned with the Duchy.

Earlier that year his youngest son, Walter had been baptised at St Mary Magdalene, Chewton Mendip where the Moggs lived; they moved presumably, into one of the manor houses that Richard built on leasing the manors from the Duchy, but the date for that I’ve not yet discovered. It may be that there were other children, baptised in a different parish once they had moved.

letter from richard mogg 1618

Letter from Richard Mogg to John Trevelyan

Richard’s letter is couched in the formal languge of the time, and refers to his previous master, Sir John Wyndham (here spelt Windham), who is stated to be a neighbour of Trevelyan; the latter lived at Nettlecombe and the former at Orchard Wyndham, near Williton, just a mile or two away. Sir John Wyndham was an important figure in Somerset, having helped organise the county’s defence against the Spanish Armada and serving as a JP in later years. He also oversaw the founding and building of Wadham College, Oxford which had been endowed by his uncle, Nicholas Wadham. 

800px-sirjohnwyndhamwatchet

Sir John Wyndham 1558-1645, from his tomb at St Decuman’s Church, Watchet

Richard is obviously in London on business of some sort and refers to the end “of this Terme”, possibly relating to the legal term of Michaelmas which ends just before Christmas. He records that he will returning to Somerset in five days time. It could be that he was already working for the Duchy, or as a representative of Sir John in the capital. He is certainly seeking employment with Trevelyan in the course of the following year when he (Trevelyan) will be Sheriff of Somerset. Whatever the outcome of his efforts in this case, Richard certainly prospered in later years. Unlike the letter of John Godfrey, which was written by a scribe, Richard’s letter is surely written by himself. It bears all the hallmarks of a personal hand, and the signature (clearly in the same hand) matches that of Richard on leases and other legal documents.

 

Transcription of letter of Richard Mogge 1618

Outside:

To the right wrll

John Trevelyan

Esqr at Nettlecombe

these d [eliver]

Text:

My humble dewtie rememberd  Sr

it is now likelie yr worpp wilbe made Sheriffe

for Somrset this yeare, for thother two doe both mak

meanes to kepe them out, by this my ltr I commend

my service unto you, wch if yuo please to accept

(if it soe happen) I shalbe gladd to doe for yr

as I have formerlie done for others, my old Mr

Sr John Windham cann report of my honestie

in the dischardg of his office, and for sou cann many

others, but for that he is yr neighbour and

I am sure your good frend to him I appeale

to bie reported of., I must attend the end of

this Terme for dispache of my now Mrs

bussnes, the wch ended and yr worpp Sheriffe

I will in five daies after repare unto you

and if in the meanetyme while I am in

London if you if you please to use me in any

service, I shalbe readie to be Commanded

Sou humblie taking my leave I end resting

                       Yr wrpps to be Commdd

                               Richard Mogge

London 7o November 

                        1618

Some personal reflections on the Great War 1914-1918

Vendresse Military Cemetery

Vendresse Military Cemetery

Being born just after the Second World War, my childhood was influenced by images of that conflict, especially in the form of comics, cinema, and later on, books; childhood games included British vs Germans as well as Cowboys and Indians. But I was not to escape the shadow of the the First World War, the Great War, as it was still regularly referred to at that time. The reason for this was the close contact I had with many relatives who lived through it and for whom, Remembrance Day (as it was in those days) was a major event in their year. 

My paternal grandfather happened to avoid the Great War as he was considered not suitable in 1914, owing to an injury he had received playing cricket (and later, when conscription was introduced and standards were eased for recruitment, because he was, by then, working in a reserved occupation). My paternal grandmother however, lost two brothers in the war and their deaths had a profound effect on all her family. My grandparents were married on September 26th 1914, which happened to be the exact day on which the eldest brother died (although they would not know this until later) and my father, their only child, was born on November 11th 1915 ensuring that after 1918, his birthday was never the occasion for any celebration, but rather a day of mourning and remembrance in the household.

I have written elsewhere short biographies of those of my and my wife’s relatives who were killed in the Great War, but I thought I might add a little additional information on them and also those relatives who survived. I shall mention first the Flexney family as my great aunts and uncles (as well, of course, as my grandparents) were a constant presence in my early years.

Frank and Leah Flexney

Frank and Leah Flexney c 1905

Frank and Leah Flexney had nine children, seven of whom lived to adulthood. There were two boys, Francis William (Frank) and Oliver Edward who both died in the war. In addition there were five sisters: Ellen, Mabel (my grandmother), Lily, Winifred and Gertrude. I have mentioned my grandparents experience, and my great-aunt Lily did not marry until she was in her 60s; she however was very close to her brothers and I remember her showing me Frank’s medals when I was in my early teens. The other three sisters all married men who had served in the war, and survived, although two of the weddings took place after the armistice and demobilisation.

Frank Flexney (1884-1914). I have given a summary of Frank’s life elsewhere (here) but I did visit the site of his death and possible grave in 1997. The map below (taken from the Official History of the South Wales Borderers) shows the area in which part of the final stages of the battle of the Asine took place.

Vendresse map

Having crossed the river Aisne the allied forces were intent on capturing the high ridge running across the top of the map, named Chemin des Dames. The capture of this ridge would give them a commanding position over the land to the north and therefore force the German army back still further. From September 14th onwards the SWB were in the vanguard of attempts of the First Army Corps to take the ridge. The map shows how close they came, reaching positions just short of the top (where the ancient road after which it was named, ran); other regiments suceeded in crossing it, but the positions could not be held in isolation, and on the 21st, the army withdrew to a line along the Vendresse Ridge to the south.

The Borderers held the left of the line, stationed in some quarries on Mont Faucon at the tip of the ridge. They repulsed a German sally on the woods below them on the 24th, but on the 26th came a sudden surprise attack, helped by the fog that morning which had obscured the massing of German forces in the woods. The position of the SWB was precarious in the extreme, as the Germans reached the quarries and much hand-to-hand fighting took place, with the Borderers rushing up two reserve companies who had been sent to the rear after the redeployment of a few days before. It is reported that, taken by surprise the soldiers fought with anything that came to hand, one even using a table fork. In time (at around 7.15am) the Germans were repulsed, and as the fog lifted around 9.00am, the large numbers of the enemy could still be seen in the valley; machine gun and rifle fire were directed at them, and they were cleared from the Chivy valley with heavy losses. It was in this fight that Frank was killed, one of 116 men of the Borderers to die that day.

Vendresse Ridge 1997

Visiting in 1997, I took the photograph, above, which shows the spur of Mont Faucon from the bottom of the valley. It is not a steep slope, but the topography is hidden by the vegetation changes over the years – there are still woods in the valley, although much reduced, and the hill top where the quarries lie is now wooded, whereas in 1914 it was bare. I spoke to the French farmer whose land it was and he told me that many visitors come to the spot to see where their family members fought and died, the majority being German. In the foregound of the photograph you can see poppies growing, one of which I picked and brought home for remembrance of Frank Flexney.

Just to the south-east of the ridge lies the village which gives it its name – Vendresse; outside the village, on the road to Troyon lies a small Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery which contains several headstones of the South Wales Borderers. Frank is not among those named; his name is inscribed on the memorial to those who died at the Marne and Aisne, and with no known grave, at La Ferte sous Jouarre.

Frank Flexney inscription

There are, however, a few headstones to soldiers of the SWB with no name  – “Known unto God” and it may well be that Frank is indeed buried here. The cemetery was created in the 1920s with bodies being brought from some surrounding parishes churchyards and communal cemeteries. By then, some identifications would have proved difficult.

Headstone SWB Soldier Vendresse

Oliver Flexney (1893-1917). As with his brother Frank, I have previously given an outline of Oliver’s service career (here). From what I remember of my family’s reminiscences, Oliver was, in character, the complete opposite of his sibling. Quiet and unassuming, he was very much less adventurous and not at all tempted by a military career. I have little to add to what I have written elsewhere, but I did visit Oliver’s grave in October 1988 and took the photograph below. The headstone is mis-inscribed “A.E. Flexney.

Oliver Flexney grave Outtersteene Cemetery

We know that he died on November 2nd, but there are no clues in the War Diary of his machine gun company as to when he was injured. I have found some photographs of the Australian Casualty Clearing Station where he died. It was only a short distance away from the spot where Oliver now lies.

Australian Field Hospital photos

The deaths of her only two sons (Frank senior had died in 1912) must have been a hammer blow to Leah, and also to her daughters, three of whom were unmarried. The eldest, Ellen Maria (my great aunt “Nell”) had married in 1909, and her husband, George Pallent served throughout the war.

George Henry Pallent (1887-1959). George appears to have enlisted in the Wiltshire Regiment in November 1915 and served at home for well over a year before his battalion were transferred to the Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force in July 1917. No details of any action are noted and he returned to Britain (via Bombay) in late 1918 before discharge in 1919.

Leah’s two youngest daughters both married ex-servicemen in 1919. Winifred married Walter Matthews who had served in the Royal Naval Division, and Gertrude married Reginald Amesbury.

Walter Winifred & Ernest Matthews

Walter and Winifred Matthews with their eldest child, Ernest Oliver

Walter Henry Matthews (1894-1940). Walter’s military records have been lost, like so many others, following enemy action in the Second World War, but one document, listing his service does survive. He enlisted in the Royal Naval Division in November 1914; despite its name (given at its formation at the start of the war, as most of the members were Navy or Royal Marine reservists) this was an infantry regiment, and was among the first of the British Army to be in action, defending Antwerp in October 1914. The Division, including Walter,  took part in the terrible Gallipoli campaign of 1915. Walter himself was admitted to hospital in September suffering from a septic hand, and again in November with enteritis and pyrexia (extreme high temperature). He was finally invalided back to Britain in late December, aboard the Mauretania.

He spent most of 1916 in England with reserve battalions, but in October he was transferred again and sent to the BEF in France. From January to March the Division took part in several actions on the river Ancre, and in one of these (on February 22nd) Walter received a gun shot wound to the head, noted in the records as severe, and complicated. Transferred back through the field hospital and base hospital system, he arrived in England the following month. On March 6th he was admitted to the Royal Naval Hospital at Gosport, where remained for a considerable time. In late August he was declared “unservicable” owing to the severity of his wounds, the record stating “the injury alone unfits this man for further service, in the Reserve or in any other rating”. He was award the Silver War Badge and discharged on August 31st. Walter remained in ill-health for the remainder of his life and died in 1940.

The youngest Flexney girl, Gertrude was also married in 1919, to Reginald Amesbury.

Reginald Charles Amesbury (1895-1975). Reginald enlisted in the Royal Engineers on August 9th 1914 and served in France until January 1916. His company (501st Wessex) participated in the second battle of Ypres among other actions. In February 1917 they were transferred to the Macedonia front, disembarking at Salonika on the 17th. Already, in France, Reginald had suffered from several bouts of diarrhea, spending time in the field hospitals there. Once in the eastern theatre he developed malaria and similarly spent periods in hospital or convalescence, twice in Corfu. He does not seem to have received any major injuries in the course of his service and finally returned to Britain in March 1919, being discharged the following month.

One member of my mother’s family also served briefly in the Great War:

Frederick Charles Gibbs (1900-1972). My great-uncle Fred enlisted in the 4th Battalion, the Gloucester Regiment in April 1915. He gave his age as 18 when in fact he hadn’t reached his 15th birthday. He was accepted, but his military record does not show any action overseas, and it seems he served in a reserve capacity in Britain. He was discharged on March 31st 1916 having given false information on his enlistment as regards his age.

Fred later became a regular soldier and was involved with the BEF of 1939/40, being one of many soldiers who escaped from Dunkirk.

Frank Joan Bert George Reg and Fred Gibbs copy 2

From the left, George Pallent, unknown, my father, Reginald Amesbury, Frederick Gibbs, my mother, my grandfather c1941/2

Of my wife Fiona’s grandfather, John Williams, I have written elsewhere (here).  In October 1988 we visited John’s grave at Hebuterne. His remains lie in a plot with three other casualties of that dreadful day, July 1st 1916.

Headstone John Williams

Her other grandfather, Donald MacDonald was the only person connected to me  who was a regular soldier at the start of the war.

Donald MacDonald (1885-c1960). Donald was the only son of John and Mary MacDonald of Dingwall in Rossshire. Mary died in1890 and Donald and several of his sisters were placed in the Highland Orphanage in Inverness. He may be the Donald McDonald who appears on the 1901 Census as a trumpeter with the Royal Engineers in Glasgow, but that is not certain. He definitely enlisted in the Scots Guards in March 1911 and served throughout the Great War and beyond. He was with the 2nd Battalion, stationed at the Tower of London when war was declared, and, as the battalion was not in the first British Corps to cross the Channel, he had time to marry Jamesina McLennan, with whom he had been in a long-time relationship, at the Kensington Register Office on August 30th. The battalion finally crossed on October 7th, landing at Zeebrugge and then advancing to Ghent, before joining up with the main British Army (which had just arrived fresh from the Battle of the Aisne) outside Ypres. The regiment, as a component of the Guards Brigade, played a full part in the First Battle of Ypres (October/November 1914) as well as many of the major engagements during the war. It would be too time consuming to list them all, but they included Neuve Chapelle, Loos, the Somme, Cambrai, Third Ypres (Passchendaele) and the final battles of the war in 1918.

Donald’s service record does not record any particular actions but it does report the two occasions on which he was wounded. On November 15th 1916 he received a gun shot wound to the right shoulder during the final phase of the Battle of the Somme but there is no indication of how long he was out-of-action. In July 1918 Donald was awarded the Military Medal, which was a recent innovation granted to other ranks for “gallantry or devotion to duty under fire”, but again there is no surviving citation to identify the particular reason for the award. Donald was wounded again on October 20th, just three weeks before the Armistice. On this occasion he received a gun shot wound in the left leg and, given the date, it is possible to pinpoint the action; the Guards Brigade had just crossed the river Selle and the 2nd Scots came under heavy machine gun fire. After clearing the enemy from its position, the Official History of the regiment noted that whilst on patrol, “2nd Lieutenant J H Fletcher was killed and his platoon sergeant wounded”. Donald had risen steadily through the ranks during the war, and was, by now, a sergeant so this may refer to him, or it may be that he was wounded in the earlier action.

One can assume that this was Donald’s final action in the war and he was discharged as “surplus to military requirements” on February 26th 1919. He must be amongst a very small number of soldiers who fought and survived the whole of the Great War and one might feel not only had he done his duty and beyond, but that he would have had enough of soldiering – not so, for on October 16th the same year he rejoined the regiment and served a further seven years and five more on reserve. Moreover at the outbreak of war in 1939 he offered his services as an instructor, if required, at the age of 54.

Donald MacDonald

Donald MacDonald c1950

Thoroughly Modern Millier

St Swithin Walcot R

St Swithin’s, Walcot, Bath

As family historians we spend a great deal of time following surnames back through the ages. This use of the paternal surname is sometimes the only way links are found that otherwise might be obscure. In addition the recurrence of christian names can also be an aid. The common ones, John, Mary, William, Elizabeth, Ann, George and so on were commonplace in past times and only help where strict naming patterns are found, but the more unusual ones can present a guideline to family continuity. These links are not always apparent and can often skip a generation, but remain a useful hint of which members of a family left fond memories.

The name Amelia has a complex history, deriving from both germanic and latin sources which coalesced in the Middle Ages, Amelia being used primarily in Germany and an English form, Emily being used (Emelye) by Chaucer. It did not come into common use in Britain, however, until the Hanoverians arrived in 1714. George II named one of his daughters Amelia (1711-1786) and she was known as Princess Emily in England. The German form, Amelia was soon superceded by its English equivalent and was never a common name, although popular in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Of late the name has come back into fashion and became the most popular name for girls born  in Britain last year.

Amelia Gibbs

“Aunty Millie” Amelia Smith nee Gibbs in 1922

My great aunt, Amelia Gibbs, known to me as Aunty Millie, was the eldest daughter of my great grandparents, John and Ada (née Street) Gibbs and was born in December 1889; she was presumably named for John’s grandmother who lived until 1900. John’s parents, William and Mary Ann Gibbs had named their eldest Mary Amelia, and the name was used by several of his siblings for one of their daughters too. The first Amelia Gibbs must have been a much-loved, or at least formidable woman, possibly both. 

She was born, most probably, very early in 1815 and was christened at St Swithin’s, Walcot, Bath on January 25th. Her parents were William Helps, a plasterer by trade and his wife, Elizabeth (née Vincent). St Swithin’s was also the venue for her marriage which took place on Sunday, May 19th 1833. Her husband John Gibbs was, by trade, a comb maker although throughout his life he is usually described as a retailer of some sort as well. Perhaps the skill of making combs was no longer in demand as the industrialisation of many such trades increased. In most censuses he is given as a comb maker, although various trade directories list him as a seller of toys, glass and other commodities, and in 1871 he is listed as a general trader.

12 Guinea Lane Bath

12 Guinea Lane, Bath where Amelia Gibbs lived as a lodger following John’s death

Amelia was involved in retail too; although she is a laundress in 1841, ten years later she is listed as a “shop huckstress”, presumably selling small items from a tray within a shop. No occupation is listed for her in the next two censuses, but in 1881, a year after John’s death, she is given as a news agent, and in 1891 a retired shopkeeper (she died in Bath in 1900). John and Amelia had eight children, but only four livied to adulthood. The eldest, Amelia, was born in Bristol whilst the Gibbs lived there for a few years following their marriage. I can account for the other children, but Amelia’s life remains a mystery. She married Henry Abraham at Bathwick parish church on December 18th 1859, but thereafter disappears. Henry was described as a labourer, the son of Charles; he was at home with his parents (Charles and Martha) on the 1851 Census, yet, despite his marriage, he is still with them ten years later. He is described as married (not widowed) and is now working in an iron foundry. There is no sign of Amelia on the 1861 census.

In 1871 Henry appears to be living still with his mother (Charles had died in 1863), but his surname is given as Coles. I think this is a mistake by the enumerator, as also in the household were his sister, Mary Ann Coles (she had married a soldier who was abroad at this point) and her daughter (also Mary Ann). No doubt the enumerator made notes and later, on writing up the schedule mistook Henry for Mary Ann’s husband rather than brother.

In 1881 Henry Abrahams was still living at the same address (his mother Martha had died the previous year), 4 Villa Place, Bathwick and had acquired a new wife, Georgina, eighteen years his junior. They appear to have married in Bedminster the previous month. Georgina died in 1893 and Henry in 1909.

So the marriage of Henry and Amelia must have broken down very early, as there is no record of a death for Amelia, and Henry continues to be given as married on censuses. What can have become of her?

Baptism William Helps 1789

Baptisms of William and Anne Helps at St Swithin’s, 1789

The Helps family does not seem to have been a prosperous one. Amelia’s father, William was a plasterer by trade, and one child of his marriage to Elizabeth Vincent, Robert, was born in the Poor House in 1813. William himself died in 1819, aged about 33. Tracing back families before the advent of the census (1841) and civil registration (1837) is always fraught, but I am pretty sure I have discovered William’s baptism. There is, in the register of St Swithins, Walcot, a joint baptism of two children (possibly twins) on June 28th 1789. They are William and Anne, the son and daughter of John and Mille Helps. Now Millie is not I name I’ve come across this early before and must surely be a pet form of Amelia. The name Millicent was extremely rare at this time and was really only popular later in the 19th century. I couldn’t find any marriage or baptism for John in Bath, but was lucky to find another baptism for a child of this couple. On June 26th 1791, at St Mary’s, Bathwick, the baptism is recorded of “Joseph son of John and Amelia Helps of Coresham near Chippenham, aged nine months”. This makes the identification of William’s parentage more certain. The name he used for his eldest daughter, was that of his mother – a very common practice at the time.

Baptism Joseph Helps 1791

Baptism of Joseph Helps 1791

Further back than that I’ve not been able to go so far. There are a few John Helps baptised in Wiltshire around the right time; our John may not have come from Wiltshire originally of course, but the name is far commoner there than in Somerset. There are three families in Corsham itself at the time, but no child named John baptised there. I have, however found a marriage which I think is that of John and Amelia/Millie. In the parish register of  St. Michael and all Angels, Melksham there is a marriage dated September 18th 1784 between John Helps and Millier Wadham or Wadhams. Melksham is just a few miles away from Corsham and I’m sure this must be the correct one – no other likely marriages for a John Helps are to be found and it seems possible that “Millier” is what the priest heard when Amelia gave her name at the calling of the banns; stranger things have happened in parish records. Against that, if one searches for baptisms in Wiltshire about the right time, there are more “Millier”s than “Amelias”; so perhaps this was a recognised local spelling of the same name.

Possible marriage John Helps 1784

Adventures in DNA

Edinburgh Sep 2011 042

Edinburgh Castle

I have long been a sceptic concerning the use of DNA testing and its place in the practice of family history and genealogy. This was mostly down to ignorance of what was involved. Having been asked to make a presentation on the subject at the U3A group I help lead, I was forced into a deeper exploration of what DNA analysis involved and how it had helped, or hindered, others who have taken the plunge.

Basically a DNA test involves (in the case of Ancestry, who I decided to use as they have the largest number of users) spitting into a small tube and sending it to Ancestry, who arrange the processing of the DNA and the  analysis of the results. After a few weeks the results appear on the Ancestry website, in the form of a summary of one’s “ethnicity” and a list of potential cousins, in order of closeness, as indicated by the amount of DNA material in common. Of course, only people who have tested with Ancestry are included, and many of those have little or no interest in family history and only tested to discover their ethnic origins. Some of the “cousins” will have their trees on the site and these can be checked for similarities with one’s own.

The ethnicity results can be interesting, but are always to be regarded as general guidelines, rather than 100% accurate. As they are based on the DNA results of others who have tested, they only represent a small proportion of humanity, and can sometimes be misleading. However they do have a bearing on my experience in genetic genealogy.

The actual result of the DNA analysis (known as raw data) is not intelligible to the layman, but can be uploaded to other sites that offer DNA services. In my case I have uploaded mine to My Heritage, Family Tree (FTdna) and finally to Gedmatch, a site that does not carry out tests but processes others’ data. It has been interesting to see that the closeness of relationships has been mirrored, so far, in those cases where the same individuals have also uploaded their data to multiple sites. This seems to boost the authenticity of the degree of relationship as indicated by the sites.

My main reason for testing was to confirm my family tree which I had discovered over many years research. Building a document-based tree is time consuming and can be extremely frustrating when so much is missing from past records. In addition, one is relying on the accuracy of written records that may, or may not be reliable. However, it is also rewarding, although the niggle remains – “is all this accurate?”. By comparing with others trees, using DNA test results as a guideline for degrees of relationship, one can “prove”, as far as is possible, that the paper tree is a true reflection of one’s heritage. A note of caution must be raised the further back into the past one goes. Some of the “cousins” thrown up by the websites are quite remote – 5th to 8th cousins for instance, and the amount of DNA material that is shared could equally be the result of random chance. In this case, unless a paper-trail connection can be made as well, it is best to put them to one side until more evidence is found. On the other hand, where the amount of matching DNA material is small, but the paper-trail exists, one can be more confident that it confirms the match, as the possiblilty of any chance matching with a non-relative who appears by the record to be  a cousin, however remote, is unlikely.

When a true match is fully backed up by the researched tree, there is little doubt that that portion of the tree is totally correct, in the direct line. So far, I have had several of these matches, which have enabled me to definitely confirm my descent from the following:

Thomas Hall (c1776-1841) and his wife, Betty (c1779-1854, nee Pickford). I am descended from their daughter Elizabeth, and have found a matching cousin who descends from their son, Benjamin.

John Gibbs (1809-1880) and his wife, Amelia (1815-1900, nee Helps). I am descended from their son William, and a matching cousin descends from their son Robert Frederick.

William Noyes (1815-1894) and his wife, Eliza (1811-1891, nee Pritchard). My descent is from their daughter, Maria and my cousins’ (there are two of them) from Henry, their son.

Stephen Bumstead (1778-1841) and his wife Betsy (1782-?, nee Wase). I descend from their son, Stephen and my matching cousin from their son, William Wase Bumstead.

Louisa Bumstead (1842-1923, nee Peters). Louisa was my great grandmother through her son, George Albert Bumstead. My matching cousin is descended from Rosina Fear Peters (1864-1946) an illegitimate daughter of Louisa’s, born before her marriage.

Edward Flexney (1795-1853) and his wife Mary (1796-1878, nee Godfrey). I am descended from their son, John (b 1840) and my cousin from their son, Frederick.

So far, so good, but there are downsides as well. The closest match that has appeared so far – someone who is probably a second or third cousin – was adopted and does not know his immediate forebears. Another close match has a father who was adopted. These will be total stumbling blocks in finding our relationship, unless the individuals wish, and are able to, track down their parentage. There are also several matching cousins whose background takes them to areas where my forebears lived, but without any paper-researched link in their trees. Because the suggested degree of cousinship indicated by the various sites is vague, “4th to 8th cousins” for example, the chance of finding the link is poor. However, there are many hundreds of matches I have not followed up yet, so it’s very early days in my genetic quest.

By far the most exciting possibility for me in the DNA field is the chance of discovering the identity of my “missing” grandfather, which was unknown to anyone in my immediate family. Family stories relate that he was a “very respectible young man”, possibly a soldier, who died in April 1918. He was, most likely, in Bristol in September/October 1917. Carrying out my DNA test has resulted in  two linked clues; firstly, I have mentioned how the ethnicity element of the results is not conclusive, and often vague, yet the interesting figure from the Ancestry analysis is that my background is 34% Scots. Now I have taken most of lines back to the 18th century, and so far it has been wholly southern English with the exception of a ggg grandmother born in Dublin in 1804. The Ancestry estimate indicated I have 36% southern English inheritance, so it would show that I have a major Scottish ancestor not too far back in my lines. Confirming this, is the fact that among my matches are a large number of people with Scots descent, the names Campbell, Buchanan, McFarlane and MacDonald cropping up as the most common. I am convinced that this indicates that my missing grandfather is of Scottish lineage. I am at the stage now of contacting some of these matches to see if any likely candidates turn up. The main problem with this approach is that any common ancestor of both myself and any one matching cousin could be three to seven generations back, and as most family historians only trace back a direct line (and possibly the siblings of that line) so discovering an individual who would have been connected to us both, but possibly several generations down from the common ancestor is difficult to say the least.

Ethnicity

My Ancestry ethnicity profile

I do have one strong candidate at present, suggested by one of my Scottish matches. He fits the bill in many ways, but his military record from the First World War is patchy and problematic and I can’t place him in Bristol at the right time at the moment. However it does give a possible line of research; when most paper trails have been exhausted at least the genetic angle of family history  provides new prospects of success as well as confirming much of what has been done so far is correct.

Industrial Archaeology

Stoke Lane Sept 2011 001 copy

St Michaels Church, Stoke Lane before 19th century rebuilding

When researching family history, one expects to come across generation after generation of labourers or agricultural labourers and, occupational records being sparse before the beginning of civil registration (1837) and the census of 1841, that is usually what you accept as the default. However I have been lucky with many of my families in that both rural and urban lines have often revealed crafts and trades of a variety of types. So far I have come across carpenters, plumbers and glaziers, masons, retailers, bakers, blanket weavers, railwaymen, musicians and many others. The distaff side, as well as the usual servants, laundresses and dressmakers has included a 19th century “shop huckstress” and a 17th century midwife. The rural lines have produced a number of labourers but also many husbandmen and yeomen (both of which we would now call farmers) as well as a wool comber, flax dresser, miller and a lime-burner. The most numerous of all the tradespeople however, occuring almost somewhere in every line are shoemakers, in one form or another: cordwainers (an ancient term denoting one who not only made shoes but worked in leather goods generally), boot maker, slipper maker and shoemaker itself. Of these, my starting point in this article is William Noyes (1815-1894), my ggg grandfather.

3 Temple Gate, Bath Parade

William Noyes’ shop and house on Temple Parade (probably the second from the left of the row of cottages; this was formerly Redcliffe Almshouses)

William’s daughter, Maria married John Flexney in Bristol in 1861 and died, tragically young in 1880, and we have seen (here) how they possibly met, John working as a railway porter at Temple Meads Station, which faced William Noyes’ home and shop on Temple Way. William had been working as a self-employed boot maker in Bristol since the 1830s (although the 1861 census also records him as employing three men) and he had married Eliza Pritchard at Temple Church in 1838. In their early years the family lived at several addresses in the Temple or neighbouring Redcliffe areas, but by 1861 they had settled at Bath Parade in Temple Way. Of William and Eliza’s eight children, only three survived into adulthood; Henry, a railwayman (1840-1904), Maria (1841-1880) and Clara (1857-1897) who was left the whole of William’s estate of £595 when he died; William’s wife Eliza had passed away three years before, in 1891.

I have been unable to take Eliza’s line back very far; she was the daughter of Joseph Pritchard (1783-1851) and his wife Catherine (nee Kill 1782-1859), who lived in Winchester where Joseph worked as a gardener. More research at Hampshire Record Office is required. William however proved a little easier to research as his roots lay in Somerset. When first tackling his origins I was given two clues; living with him in the 1841 census were another William Noyes and a Sarah Noyes. Of course, no relationships are given in that record (and by 1851 both had died), but their ages suggest that that could be William junior’s parents. In later censuses William gives his place of birth variously as Murtrey, Murtry near Frome, and Medtree as well as the unhelpful “Somerset” and “Bristol”. This took a little time to track down, although the “near Frome” gave the greatest clue, as in 1841 William senior gave his occupation as “miller”. A search of old maps finally showed the solution as clearly marked on the 1881 OS map is Murtry Flour Mill, just to the north-west of Frome and lying in the parish of Buckland Dinham.

Murtry Mill 1888 OS

Murtry Flour Mill on an 1881 OS map

The parish register of Buckland did not have William’s baptism however and no others for any children of William and Sarah. After a search for other Noyes baptisms in this area of Somerset, I finally found the baptism of William Noyes, son of William and Sarah at St Michaels, Stoke Lane (also known as Stoke St Michael) on April 14, 1816, with the parents’ abode given as Buckland Dinham. I found a further clutch of baptisms for William’s siblings as well as the marriage of his parents, William Noyes and Sarah Clavey on October 7th, 1805. At the marriage both parties are described as “of this parish” although William is further designated as a “sojurner”, meaning he was not born in the parish but, at the time, lived and worked there. Before we turn to Sarah’s family, I managed to trace William’s parentage by returning to the register at Buckland Dinham. He was baptised there in 1784, the son of yet another William Noyes and his wife Elizabeth. Beyond that there is not a great deal more – William and Elizabeth Sears married at St Johns, Frome in March 1780, but I cannot trace either of them any further back as yet. It could well be that this first William was also the miller of Murtry Mill, but there is no evidence so far. His other son, named John may be the John Noyes who is listed in nearby Mells as a miller in an 1844 Directory, but at least we can be sure that the William baptised in 1784 worked at Murtry from at least 1813 until 1820, when the family appears to have moved to Stoke Lane. The mill itself is no longer standing; it was recorded as “disused” in 1930 and demolished in the 1950s. Only a few stones now remain alongside the old mill race.

Returning to Sarah Clavey, there is much more information available on her family, who had been settled in Stoke Lane for at least 200 years. The earliest reference so far is to a Richard Clavey who was granted a licence to sell ale there in 1615, and it may be that the numerous Clavey family of the parish all descend from him. Sarah’s branch is well documented back to the early 18th century, although problems with the parish registers which are disordered and damaged, and the near-total lack of wills for Somerset make anything further more complicated. The collection of wills for Somerset, proved at the bishops’ and archdeacons’ courts (as well as those for Devon) were destroyed in the bombing of Exeter during the Second World War. Only a few proved at Canterbury, even fewer copies preserved in local archives, and the Estate Duty Office copies of 1812-57 survive. Luckily three of these survivors exist for Sarah’s ancestors. One of them is the will of Sarah’s father, Abraham Clavey (c1742-1829) which adds valuable information about the family other than the bare records of the parish register. Abraham describes himself as a yeoman and the will, dated October 6th 1828 provides bequests to his three surviving children, all daughters, Mary, Elizabeth and Sarah as well as Sarah’s eldest son, Joseph. As well as his household goods and chattels, which were left to Elizabeth, Abraham’s estate consisted of two properties; one called Rawlings which was leasehold and included a cottage and gardens, was also left to Elizabeth. The other called Fussells “where I now reside”, was freehold (although with a mortgage of £8 per year with six years to run) and was left to Sarah, and following Sarah’s death to Joseph. After paying off the mortgage, Sarah had to pay her sisters one shilling per week for the remainder of their lives. Fussells consisted of a house, gardens and pasture land running to about ten acres. Both properties lay on Withy Brook Lane which runs westwards from Stoke Lane Village towards Oakhill.

Abraham had married Martha Gullick at St Michaels church in 1764 and both were seemingly from the village. Unfortunately the baptisms are missing from the parish register for the period 1741-8 and (from the age given at their burials) both their births would have occured in that period; Abraham’s around 1742 and Martha’s three years later. They had nine children, but as previously mentioned, only three daughters survived them (Martha died in 1813). Mary the eldest died in 1835 and Elizabeth, who remained single like her elder sister in 1866, leaving her estate to her nephew, Joseph Noyes; Joseph was a cordwainer like his younger brother William, but he spent the whole of his life in Stoke Lane.

We are lucky in being sure of Abraham’s parentage as his father’s will exists too (as an abstract ) in the Estate Duty copies. It records that he leaves 2/6d per week to his daughter Mary Ann charged against real estate left to his son Abraham; Abraham also received a leasehold wooded area called Rich’s and a workshop erected on the site as well as the residue of the estate. Most of the Claveys of Stoke Lane lived to good ages, if they survived childhood, but Abraham’s father, William holds the record, dying in 1811 at the age of 97. In many ways he is the most interesting member of the family as we possess more information about him than any others. Once again we have to rely on the record of his burial to establish the year of his birth (c 1714) so his parentage is uncertain, the registers again being in extremely poor condition at this time. He is probably the son of another William, but anything further is plain conjecture. We do know however that he married Mary Fussell of Stoke Lane (her family is probably the source of the name of Abraham’s house) at Great Elm on August 19th 1739; William is described as “of Mells”. Both Mells and Great Elm lie slightly to the north-west of Frome (Great Elm is adjacent to Buckland Dinham) and there is no obvious reason why this parish was chosen for the marriage. What might be a factor in the location and William’s residence at the time, lies in his occupation. We are fortunate in having a document that describes him as an “edge tool maker” of Stoke Lane. Now the making of edge tools was an important and growing industry in the area. The leading lights were a family named Fussell; whether or not they had any connection to Mary we cannot be sure, but it may be that William worked with or for one of the family who, although originating in Stoke Lane, built up their business in the Mells/Great Elm area. Their business is usually dated to 1744 when James Fussell obtained a lease from the Horner family of Mells (descendants of “Little Jack Horner” who pulled out the “plum” of Mells manor at the dissolution of the monastries), but it may be that they were working in the area beforehand utilising the swift streams that ran down to the river Frome. The Fussell business later grew into a large, world-wide exporting empire by the early 19th century, but failed to capitalise on technological change and had closed by 1900.

Whatever the connection, we can see evidence of William’s business in an estate map of 1760 which clearly shows a wood named “Clavy’s Wood” with a mill and waterwheel and the adjoining “Riches Wood”. Also shown to the east of the mill is another building which may be the workshop referred to in William’s will. To the bottom right corner of the map may be made out a cottage in the field named “Batch Mead”. This was the Clavey’s home, being recorded as both Riches and Claveys at different periods. It had disappeared by 1841.

Stoke Lane 1760 detail copy

1760 Estate map showing Riches Wood, Clavy’s Wood with mill and workshop, and William Clavey’s house in Batch Mead

In a wooded valley with a stream running through it, this is surely the site of William’s mill. Edge tool making required a ready supply of power, and water mills were the principal source in the early 18th century as for generations before. There was a steady and growing need for edge tools such as spades, scythes and sickles in the agriculture of England which was booming with the Agricultural Revolution, which had started at the beginning of the century, taking hold. We have no record of how successful a business William’s was, or how long it continued. A lease of 1754 records the grant of land to William by the Horner family, and a survey of 1783 mentions the exitence of his edge tool mill; but it is significant that none of his sons seems to have continued it. We can however see an amazing example of the type of mill and workshop that he operated. The Finch Foundry, now owned by the National Trust is the last remaining water-powered forge in England and has regular displays of the process of producing tools of the sort that William made. It is near Okehampton in Devon. I visited it a few years ago and experienced a real thrill seeing how one of my distant ancestors toiled all those years ago.

Finch Foundry

Finch Foundry

An earlier visit had been made to Stoke Lane and I took the opportunity to explore the woods that William leased to see if any trace remained. To my surprise there were several signs there of what had existed before. A few small walls which might be the site of the mill and certainly a mill race and holding pond. With so few direct links with my distant forebears, it remains one of the highlights of my ancestral trail.

Stoke Lane Sept 2011 Mill wall

In Clavey’s Wood showing wall of mill

Whilst it is difficult to identify William’s parentage, we know that of Mary as her father’s will survives in the Somerset archives. He was Thomas Fussell, a yeoman of Stoke Lane who died in 1748. He left to his wife Mary (nee Shepard) two cottages and ten acres on Withy Brook, which are surely the ones mentioned in Abraham Clavey’s will of 1828 as one of those was named “Fussells”. Thomas further stipulates that following Mary’s death all his estate is to pass to his son-in-law, William Clavey whom he named as his executor. William had to pay an annuity to his sister-in-law, confusingly called Mary Ann Fussell (she had married a man also named Fussell), of £5.10s a year, and in addition pay of a debt incurred by Mary Ann’s husband of £27. Perhaps though, William was left enough to enable him to invest in his own edge tool business.

Stoke Lane Sept 2011 mill leat

Clavey’s mill showing the mill leat and sluice gate