Three Clerks and a Lime Burner


St James, Ashwick

Some thoughts on the Emerys of Ashwick

My ancestral line back to the Emery family of Ashwick is straightforward. My great great grandmother, Phoebe Ann Gait was the daughter of Zachariah Gait and Lydia Horler Emery, who had married in Midsomer Norton in 1820. Lydia’s father James had been born in Ashwick in 1764 and moved to Norton where he married Abigail Rogers in 1787. The connection is easy to see as Lydia was named after James’ mother, whose maiden name was Lydia Horler. James’ father was another James Emery who was the parish clerk of Ashwick and who died in 1806, the parish register recording “James Emery. Clark”.

Ashwick which lies to the south-west of Midsomer Norton is a strange parish in that the church stands in the small hamlet of Ashwick, merely a manor house and a few other buildings, whilst it contains several townships larger than the village itself. The largest of these is Oakhill to the south, straddling the Bath to Shepton Mallet road, and in the north of the parish lies Gurney Slade. The present church at Ashwick is a Victorian Gothic building of the 1870/80s, although the tower is medieval and the one the Emerys would have known.

The parish register of Ashwick is sadly deficient in the early years of the eighteenth century and only commences in 1702, so much of the history of the Emery family is hidden from us. This is, in part, owing to another James Emery who was the parish clerk in the 1730s and was twice publically admonished in the register itself by the vicar of the parish, Thomas Jenkins. That of 1732 reads:

1732  N.B.By ye Exissive Negligence of James Emery ye Clerk notwithstanding frequent admonition to ye Contrary in several months before and after this, I believe several Christnings are omitted wh ought to have been Registered, And that yt are Registered are much confusd.

And in 1735 Rev. Jenkins wrote:

28th September 1735 The same complaint which I have made already concerning James Emery, Clerk of Ashwick, I must here again repeat, tho’ this will be but poor satisfaction to those yt may suffer by ys deficiency of ye Register from March 7th 1733 to the date underwritten. I shall for ye future take ye names of those I bury and baptize myself, and if any fault happens I shall give ye Parishioners leave to charge it on their Vicar. Tho Jenkins


The 1732 admonition

The father of the James who was the parish clerk from c1784 until his death in 1806 was yet another James and I had assumed he might be the person named in these complaints. However, on reflection it would seem that he was too young for this to be the case. He died in 1789, aged 80 years, as the register states, giving him a birthdate of 1709. He married in 1732, the year of the first entry in the register and that refers to “frequent admonition” so it would appear that he would have been clerk in his very early 20s, which seems unlikely. However, there is yet another James Emery, buried in 1744 who the register names as “James Emery snr.” I now believe (without any further evidence) that this might be the clerk whom the vicar names in his complaints. We would thus have four generations of James Emerys, at least two of which were parish clerks:

James Emery (? – 1744) his wife was Mary was buried 1744 also. Possibly the clerk of the complaints and possibly the father of..
James Emery (1709-1789) who married Mary Perkins in 1732 and father of..
James Emery (1738-1806) Parish clerk, who married Lydia Horler in 1763 and father of..
James Emery (1764-1839) the father of Lydia Horler Emery (1802 – 1876)

Images of the parish registers of Somerset are now available online so it has been possible to examine the detail in the Ashwick register itself and a couple of interesting points arise. In his second complaint Thomas Jenkins the vicar states “I shall for ye future take ye names of those I bury and baptize myself”. This implies that the clerk made notes rather than write up the register at once. This was common practice in the eighteenth century and led to many entries being lost. In many cases the register would only be written up once a year at the time of the annual visitation. On inspection it is clear that the register which was started anew in 1728 after a gap of eighteen years is in the hand of Thomas Jenkins, and continues until September 1742; in fact many of the pages carry Jenkins signature. Over the next few pages at least three different hands can be identified, possibly a curate, new vicar or most likely churchwardens, until in March 1745 when a further new hand takes over and continues until May 1752 when an entry records that Charles Huish was “put in to be the Clark of Ashwick”. Thereafter the register continues in (Huish’s?) hand for many years.

The layout of the pages in the register is a standard double column style with baptisms on the left and burials on the right (marriages were listed in a separate part of the register) but on the first page in the new hand of 1745 there are no burials on the right; instead, under a heading of “James Emery” is a listing of the birthdates of what one assumes are the children of this particular James Emery. Some, but by no means all of these children appear in the register of baptisms. It would appear that this James Emery was parish clerk from 1745 until 1752 and he used a convenient space to record his own childrens’ births as well as later on, their baptisms. In one of the entries specific details are recorded which surely only a family member might know – that of Sarah where it is written “Sarah Emery was born March the 12 a bout one a clock in the after noon in 1751”. The list is not in chronological order and was presumably written about the time of Sarah’s birth, rather than added to over the years after 1745. Interestingly, when James’ son became parish clerk in 1784, he too listed on a spare page, the dates of his childrens’ births.


Birth records of the children of James Emery (1709-89)

Apart from the registers there are often other useful sources of information which enable us to find family relationships. One of these is a lease where several members of a family were named. Leases were often granted for a term of a number of years (often 99) and on certain lives, normally three. It was in the interests of the lessee to name younger members of his own family where possible in order to obtain the greatest benefit, but it was quite common too to include a wife and one child to protect the wife’s interest should one die. The manor of Ashwick (until about 1810) was held by the Fortescue family of Castle Hill, near Barnstaple in Devon. The papers are now in the hands of the Devon Record Office and several surveys of the manor are recorded in documents held there. I recently viewed those of 1763, 1779 and 1791 and these give us further knowledge of the Emery family.

The most interesting entry is in the Survey of 1763 which shows James Emery holding a lease on a property called Lime Kiln Cottage, which is in the hamlet of Gurney Slade (and still exists). The “Messuage or Tenement” includes “A Dwelling House, Two Gardens, Lime-Kiln and little Plot of Lime Rock Ground, for Burning lime on”. In addition there are a further five acres of land around the house. The charge was £3.10.00 a year and a faint note at the bottom of the document reads “This is well worth £3.10s.0d Pr Annum”. Unfortunately there is no date on this lease as there is on some, so we don’t know how long the family had held this property. The lessee in this case must be the James who lived 1709-89 as another document records that the lease was on the three lives of James himself, his wife, Mary and James their son. Also recorded there and in the Survey of 1779 are the ages of the three parties, which are not entirely accurate. In 1763 the family’s ages are shown as being 45, 45 and 21 and sixteen years later they are 59, 59 and 35. We don’t know Mary’s age but the father and son are about 10 and 5 years out respectively. This is not neccessarily a problem – ages were often estimated and we do not know for certain the elder James’ birthdate in any case. It is quite likely that he was in fact born c1713/4 and the age at the time of his burial is wrong. This is certainly the right family however.


Details of Emery’s lease in the 1763 Survey

The Survey of 1791 shows that the lease had been renewed in 1772 and the new lessee is Joseph, the younger son of James the elder. So we can be sure that James Emery (1709-89) was a lime burner – the provider of a very useful service in the predominately agricultural area of Ashwick. Lime, for fertilising the fields as well as its use in making mortar for building, was obtained by burning limestone in a kiln, fired by either wood or coal; the latter was easily obtained from local mines. There is further evidence of the Emerys’ trades in two entries in the Churchwarden’s Accounts for Ashwick in 1773:

May 28 Sack of lime. To Jim Emery to repair the window that fell down
July 21 To Joseph Emery for setting up a New Stone over the Window in the Church

Joseph, the son who was the lessee of Lime Kiln Cottage in the 1791 Survey was a mason, as other records confirm. At present this leaves us with no knowledge of the occupation of his brother James who was to be the parish clerk from 1784-1806. He may also have been an occupant of the cottage, but we don’t know. Joseph later bought the freehold of the property from the Fortescues. As far as we tell, James’s son, the James who moved to Midsomer Norton was an agricultural labourer.


Map of late 19th century showing the position of Lime Kiln Cottage (above white star)

The Surveys also enable us to glean a little more information as another lease was granted to Joseph Perkins in 1763, and the three lives on which it was held were Richard and Joanna, the children of Joseph Perkins and George Emery, the son of James Emery aged 14. This would be the brother of James and Joseph, whose birth was recorded by his father in the parish register as having taken place on Candlemas Day 1745 – February 2nd 1746 in modern terms. So one would assume that the original lease was granted to the father of Joseph Perkins, who was almost certainly the father of Mary Perkins, the wife of James Emery. He was probably the Richard Perkins who died in 1751.

Documents courtesy of South West Heritage Centre

Finding the connection


St Marys, Cogges


I have made mention in an earlier article (Oxfordshire Cousins) of Thomas Harwood, the husband of Jane Hanks and the the father of Hannah who married Richard Flexney in 1778. He has been a shadowy figure so far – just a name in the Witney parish registers, recording his marriage, the baptisms of his children and his burial. I had not been able to pinpoint his baptism. The Licence for his marriage simply refers to him as “of Witney”, whereas his bride Jane is from the neighbouring parish of Cogges.

I searched the Oxfordshire registers for a suitable baptism which probably occurred between 1700 and 1710, but the only one I could find was that of “Thomas the sonn of John Harewood” at St Marys, Cogges on January 19th 1707 (which would be 1708 in modern usage). This seemed a likely identification as it might appear that Thomas moved the few hundred yards from Cogges to Witney for employment reasons but knew Jane from childhood. There was one problem however. What I taken to be Thomas’ burial is recorded in Witney in 1775, but there is also a Thomas Harwood buried in Cogges in 1766. It would seem more of a possibility that the person who was baptised at Cogges might be the one buried there 59 years later. At this time the registers did not record ages, and usually not relationships either, so it seemed impossible to reach any firm conclusions and I had reached a dead end.


Baptism of Thomas Harwood 1707/8

Looking through the index of the holdings at the Oxfordshire Heritage Centre (the new name for the Record Office) I found a record of the apprenticeship indenture of Stephen Harwood, the son of Thomas and Jane in 1766. He was bound apprentice to Edward Pruce of Witney, a saddler and harness maker for the term of seven years. It states that Stephen’s father was Thomas Harwood of Witney, blanket weaver. So now we know Thomas’ occupation; the same as that of many of the Flexney family into which Thomas’ daughter Hannah was to marry. The next move was to find if there was any record of Thomas’ apprenticeship. Any such indenture would probably be at the OHC if it existed, but none was listed. I then checked the Apprenticeship Tax records. Between 1710 and 1811 a tax was raised on the indentures of apprentices and the register of payments is available online. Sure enough, on January 3rd 1723 (1724 in modern terms) the following was listed:
“Thos. son of Jno Horrod of Coggs, Oxon” to “Wm Tortman of Whittney, …Weaver”.


This is almost certainly the connection between our Thomas and the Cogges family. The differences in the spelling of the surname is not a concern – Harwood often appears in the same registers as Harewood or Horrod (often Harrod) and simply reflects the pronunciation at the time. In this case, the master’s name was Trotman not Tortman. The burial at Cogges in 1766 remains a problem, but it may just be another member of the family whose baptism is not recorded in the register. There was another Harwood family in Cogges during the 18th century – probably that of an uncle of Thomas, using the same range of names for their children, and it must be mentioned that at least two of Thomas’ brothers are not recorded as baptisms in the register, though they are named in their father’s will, so other baptisms may have missed.


19th century map showing Cogges, Newland and Hill Houses (top right)

Turning to Thomas’ father John, he died in 1740 having left a will dated May 17th 1736. In it he states that he is a brickmaker, living at the Hill Houses, Cogges. This presumably was a hamlet, now the site of Hill Farm just to the east of Cogges. Nineteenth century maps show a collection of cottages as well as the farm itself. In his will John left five shillings each to his sons, John and Richard; one shilling to a son-in-law and forty shillings apiece to his sons Thomas, William and James. The remainder of his estate, including property, implements and stock in trade he left to his son Joseph. Several of these sons seem to have remained in Cogges judging by entries in the registers and one, James, a labourer, died in 1768 leaving a will in which he left Thomas £6, his clothing to brother John and the remainder of his estate to Joseph Harwood.


Detail of map showing dwellings at Hill Houses

At the time of his will, John Harwood senior was a widower, his wife Mary (nee Thomas) having died in 1730. John is probably the individual who was baptised at Cogges in 1671, the son of Richard Harwood; a brother Richard was baptised three years later. As the registers for Cogges only commence in 1653 it is not be possible to take this line back any further.

One odd coincidence with the tracing of this family is that there are two individuals, almost contemporaries in my ancestry with identical names and both involved in the construction industry – John Harwood the brickmaker of Cogges (1671?-1740) and John Harwood the house carpenter of Bristol (1663-1745 – for more on him see here). Could some of the bricks made by the former have found their way into the houses constructed by the latter? Highly unlikely but a tantalising idea.
The wills of John and James Harwood will, in time appear on the OFHS wills website:

Document images courtesy of the Oxfordshire Heritage Centre

Three Generations in Service


St John the Baptist, Midsomer Norton

Lydia Horler Emery was baptised at the parish church in Midsomer Norton on 10th January 1802, and was the third child of James and Abigail Emery. Following a brother and sister who had been named for their parents. Lydia was named after her paternal grandmother, Lydia Horler. James and Abigail (nee Rogers) had themselves been married at the same church on 31st May 1787, and although both are given as being “of this parish” in the banns, only Abigail seems to have been born and baptised in the town – in 1768.

James’ family had been settled in the parish of Ashwick, just north of Shepton Mallet for several generations. They were a literate family, James’ father and grandfather (both named James) had served as Parish Clerk. The grandfather had not been as assiduous a clerk as his son was to turn out to be. On two occasions the vicar wrote admonitions in the register blaming James for missing entries. Lydia later described her father as a farmer, but in later years her brother James appears as an agricultural labourer in the Census returns, and on his death certificate (1839) James senior was described as “Labourer”.


Just after her eighteenth birthday, on 20th March 1820 Lydia married Zachariah Gait of Chewton Mendip, again at Midsomer Norton parish church. Although heir to a prosperous yeoman family in his home village, Zachariah moved to Norton sometime between the baptisms of their first child, John (October 1820 at Chewton) and daughter Phoebe (January 18th 1824 at Norton). His occupation was recorded in both Parish Registers as butcher. Possibly there was parental displeasure on the Gait side at the marriage, although they had previous connections: at the marriage of Zachariah’s parents in 1783, Lydia’s grandfather, James Emery was a witness. We do not know the reasons why the family remained in Norton – there was a Charles Gait, also a butcher, there in 1841, possibly Zachariah worked with a cousin. In any case, they did not seem to have stayed for long. Zachariah’s death is recorded on his parent’s gravestone (in Chewton churchyard) the date being given as being 8th April 1829. The parish register lists his abode as Chewton once more.

In 1836 John and Phoebe were left £10 each in the will of their great-aunt, Sarah Pearce, although neither had been mentioned in the will of their grandfather, Jeremiah Gait the year before. The 1841 Census finds Lydia and possibly Phoebe in service in London. Lydia was at 22 Upper Brook Street in Mayfair, the eldest female servant (possibly the housekeeper?) in the household of William Wrightson, MP for Retford & Northallerton. In the Census return, William is not in residence, although his wife, Georgiana was.

The family that Lydia served were long established landowners from Yorkshire. William Battie Wrightson was born in 1789, the eldest son of another William Wrightson (1752-1827) who had been High Sheriff of Yorkshire and MP for Aylesbury. The family seat was the impressive Cusworth Hall near Doncaster, which had been built by an earlier William Wrightson in 1742. The Upper Brook Street residence was the family’s town house, and William and Georgina are found there in later Census records.

The 1851 Census for Gilmerton House in East Lothian, just to the east of Edinburgh clearly shows Lydia Gaitt as the Housekeeper, born around 1806 in “Midsummer Norton, Somersetshire”. She is given as unmarried, but this may assume she was “single” or possibly female servants were expected to have no ties, so no searching questions were asked of them for Census purposes. The House was built in the mid eighteenth century by the Kinloch family, who live there to this day. It was the largest establishment that Lydia is known to have worked in.


Gilmerton House

In 1851 the head of the family was Sir David Kinloch, the ninth baronet, who appears at the head of the return along with his two daughters, Isabella and Elenor. His wife, Eleanor, Lady Kinloch had died in 1849. Gilmerton House had a much larger staff than the Wrightsons’ at Upper Brook Street (six servants in 1841, nine in 1851). As well as three members of the family (the son & heir was away at University) and two visitors, there were thirteen members of staff living in, and certainly others living around the estate.

Ten years later the 1861 Census was to find Lydia in another interesting household, again with a Scots family, but with a very different background. We can, at present, only “see” Lydia in Census years. There is no evidence how long she stayed with each employer, or if indeed she had many more in between Censuses. It can be assumed that no respectable family would employ a servant without a good “Character” (reference), so we can only wonder why she moved regularly, presumably having no trouble finding new employment.

Lydia’s new employer was Robert Dalglish Grant of Bury in Lancashire, the son of John Grant, a prosperous cotton and calico manufacturer, and her new position (again as Housekeeper) was at Nuttall Hall at Ramsbottom, just outside Bury. The photograph below shows her new place of work as it was in the early twentieth century. It has since been demolished.

The Grant family had come down from Scotland and settled in the Bury area earlier in the century, working in the cotton mills that were expanding rapidly in Lancashire. They later went into the retail side of the business and also purchased land and factories from Sir Robert Peel’s family. By the 1840s the four Grant brothers – William, John, Daniel and Charles were cotton magnates, each with their own grand establishment. John had rebuilt Nuttall Hall around 1817 and lived there with his family until his death in 1855. His two brothers, William and Daniel were well-known philanthropists in the area and were immortalized by Charles Dickens in his novel Nicholas Nickleby as the “Cheeryble brothers”. Again, it is not possible to know how long Lydia stayed at Nuttall Hall. Her new master, Robert was to die in four years time and the house came into the possession of his aunt, Isabella.

As a Housekeeper in such important households, Lydia would have had many and various duties, as well as some freedoms not available to other servants. The Housekeeper was one of the trio of senior servants who ran the establishment: the Butler was in charge of all the male servants, as well as the day to day attendance on the master of the house in person, and the other members of the family at meals and other gatherings; the Lady’s maid was responsible to the Lady of the household, being responsible for all her wardrobe, including personal laundry, and the comfort and appearance of her mistress; the Housekeeper’s duties included responsibility for all the other female servants and the general good running of the household. She would interview any prospective female members of the staff (excluding Lady’s Maid and Cook, when the Lady would have the decision) and ensure they carried out their duties to the letter. She would liaise with her mistress, possibly on a daily basis, regarding the household accounts, which concerned the supplies of food, linen and cleaning materials. She was responsible for all the purchasing of those requirements and the storage and economical use of them. In return Lydia would probably have more freedom in her life (constrained as it was by the demands of the household). She would be allowed a certain amount of free time, even brief “holidays”, denied to the lower servants. She would have had her own bedroom and a parlour, where she may have carried out her paperwork if a separate office was not available. She would have been waited on, in her turn, by the lesser servants and not required to do any dirty or menial work. According to Mrs Beeton in the 1861 edition of her Book of Household Management, she could have expected an annual salary of between £15-£25 with all found.


Glenusk Villa now LLanwysg

On October 20th 1869, Lydia married Joseph Richard Battey at St Cattwgs Parish Church in the village of Llangattock, just outside Crickhowell in Breconshire. She gives her profession as “Housekeeper” and her address as Lanysk. Joseph was a Carrier, living in Crickhowell; both were widowed.


We can place Lydia’s last place of employment as Glanusk Villa (now Llanwysg) near Llangattock, and part of the Glanusk Park Estate, home of the Legge- Bourke family who are descended from Sir Joseph Bailey, a South Wales Ironmaster. The Villa was the residence of the Hotchkiss family, in 1871 headed by Ann Hochkiss, the widow of John Hochkiss, a retired Commander in the Royal Navy. John was a Scot from Edinburgh and in previous years several of their servants had been Scots too, including Lydia’s predecessor, Mary Ingliss (or Ingles) who hailed from Berwickshire. The marriage certificate of Lydia and Joseph has, as witnesses, Edwin Barnett and Mary Pritchard. In the Glanusk Villa Census of 1871, there is an Edmund Barnett (Butler) and Mary Pritchard (Lady’s Maid).

Joseph Battey’s profession in previous Censuses was given as Fishmonger or Fishmonger & Carrier. It can probably be assumed he was the supplier of fish to the household and dealt with Lydia in her position as Housekeeper. Following the death of his wife earlier in the decade, no doubt the two of them discussed their widowhoods – Joseph’s children were all adults and the companionship of another was no doubt an attraction. Interestingly, Joseph was originally from London – could it be they had known each other from the 1840s?


The Marriage certificate of Joseph Battey and Lydia Gait 1869

They were living in High Street, Crickhowell on the 1871 Census, Joseph still given as a Carrier, with Lydia finally in retirement. They were given seven years together – Lydia dying, possibly of cancer, on 17th May 1876. Joseph followed in 1880, aged 79. He was buried with his first wife, but had provided Lydia with an impressive headstone dedicated to “my beloved wife”.


Phoebe Ann Gait was baptised in Midsummer Norton in January 1824 and four years later her father, Zachariah died at the early age of 29. At some stage she appears to have moved to London, presumably with her mother, Lydia. The 1841 Census shows a Phoebe Gote living in lodgings in Stafford Place, St Margarets, Westminster. She is sharing lodgings with Robert Sistorn, both are described as servants, and her age is about right (shown as 15, but ages over 10 were normally rounded down to the nearest multiple of 5 in 1841).

It is possible, of course she was just a servant to the householder, Thomas Cornwall, but the single mark between the Cornwalls and Phoebe & Robert Sistorn indicate a separate “household”, so Robert and Phoebe could be servants in other houses. Stafford Place is literally “round the corner” from Buckingham Palace and several inhabitants are in Royal service. Their neighbour next door is described as “Queens Footman”. Perhaps research in the Royal household records might prove interesting!


Marriage certificate of Stephen Bumstead and Phoebe Ann Gait

Just two years later, on 26th February 1823 Phoeba married Stephen Bumstead, a painter, plumber and glazier (all three trades were linked by the use of lead) at St Mary’s Whitechapel. The first child of Stephen and Phoebe, a son also named Stephen (my great grandfather) was born on 14th January 1844 at 41 Betts Street, near St George’s Church in Stepney. Stephen senior died on 31st May 1846 of Typhus Fever. His age is given as 46 and the family had moved north to Montague Street in Spitalfields. On the death certificate Stephen was a painter and glazier. Phoebe was by then expecting a second child, who was given the name Georgina Ellen Gait Bumstead at the registration of the birth in October 1846. Poor Phoebe was to suffer further grief as baby Georgina died at the age of 8 months on 22nd June 1847, but by then she appears to have remarried as her name on the death certificate was given as “Pheby Ann Rogers”.


The man whose name Phoebe had taken was George Rogers, a fellow immigrant to London from Somerset, who was almost certainly her first cousin. George was a carpenter who had come to the capital to find work (as Stephen Bumstead had moved from Ipswich). The city was rapidly expanding in the early nineteenth century and vast areas were under construction. George had married a local girl, Hannah Coles who died in March 1847, leaving George with a young son (also George). Perhaps it was a little unseemly to move in together so soon, but Victorians were practical people and two widows with young children no doubt saw the advantages of the relationship. George and Phoebe stayed in London for a short time, a daughter whom they also named Georgina Ellen Gait (Rogers) being born in the first half of 1848. By 1850 though, they had returned to Somerset, a second daughter, Lydia Ann being born in the village of Stanton Drew where the family was to stay for over forty years.

Only five years old when her father died and married and widowed by 22, Phoebe’s path through life had many twists and turns yet to come. After her return to Somerset with George Rogers, they were to have several more children. As well as Georgina Ellen and Lydia Ann there were Jemima Emily (1852), John Gait (1857), Alice Maud (1859), Hannah Selina (1862) Mary Jane (1864) and finally Phoebe Isabella in 1869. But, despite the change of surname, Phoebe and George did not marry until 1856. It seems they attempted to wed on two previous occasions. The banns for their marriage were called at St Saviours, Southwark in 1847 and 1852, but no marriage took place. Did one of Phoebe’s pregnancies or an illness interfere with the wedding plans? And why did they continue to go to Southwark after their return to Somerset? Perhaps they thought as the original banns had been called there, they had to marry in the same parish.


Marriage certificate of George Rogers and Phoebe Ann Bumstead 1856


George’s business properered, and by the 1881 Census he was described as a “Builder and Contractor”. John Gait Rogers had moved to Bath and was employed as a Grocer’s assistant, but tragedy was to strike the family in 1888/9. As well as their son John, the youngest daughter, Phoebe Isabella (always known in the family as Bella) had obtained employment in nearby Bath in 1883. She was employed as a shop assistant, living-in as was the norm in Victorian times, at Gardiner’s drapery shop in Stall Street. On the evening of Friday 6th July Bella and a newly arrived colleague, Annie Watts joined three young men in a boating trip up the river Avon to Bathampton. After refreshments at the George Inn, the party embarked for the return journey back to Bath. It was past ten o’clock and dark by the time they arrived and William Isaacs, who had been kneeling in the stern, complained of getting wet; as he stood up the boat capsized and each of the girls let out a scream as all five pitched into the water. Despite brave efforts from the males in the party, both girls as well as Willie Isaacs were drowned. Bella’s body was recovered the next day and her brother John had to identify her at the city morgue.

Just nine months later, John, who had recently taken on his employer’s grocery business, died of peritonitis after a short illness; he was 33. Two months later, in May 1889, no doubt crushed by events, George Rogers was buried alongside his parents and three of his children (an infant daughter had died twenty years earlier) in Stanton Drew churchyard.

The 1891 Census finds Phoebe, now a widow staying at the home of Ann Bush in Stanton Drew. She is given as a visitor, so we have no idea where her domicile was. Under occupation she is described as “living on own means”, so we must assume George left her comfortably off, even though his residual estate was only valued at £221. By 1901 however, another of those dramatic changes that mark her life had occurred. No doubt Stanton Drew held painful memories for her; her surviving daughters had married and moved away, so it may seem natural that she went to live near the one who was furthest from Somerset.


61Victoria Street, Horwich

1901 finds Phoebe Ann Rogers living at 61 Victoria Road, Horwich a town near Bolton in Lancashire. She is the head of the household, which includes a granddaughter, Mabel Maud Smith, aged 21 who was born in Gloucestershire and who gives her occupation as Milliner; and three boarders who are all engineers. Victoria Road had been built in 1880/1890s by the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Co. to house its employees – one of whom, Thomas Clayton had married Phoebe’s daughter, Alice Maud in 1890.

The 1901 Census finds them living across the road from Phoebe at No 73, with their growing family, including their eldest son, John Gait Clayton. Mabel Maud Smith was the eldest daughter of Jemima Emily Rogers, who married Samuel Smith in 1877. The family lived in Cam in Gloucestershire and Samuel was a gardener and taxidermist.

Another of Phoebe’s daughters, Lydia Ann had married a Thomas Branfield and they had initially moved to Wales, like others of the family, seeking work in the collieries. Lydia and Thomas did not have any children and 1901 finds them in Horwich too, where he is a general labourer and Lydia a Monthly Nurse. By 1911 however, Lydia had followed her grandmother into service, being a housekeeper at the country retreat of William Lever (later Lord Leverhulme) and living at the Bungalow, Rivington which lies just to the north of Horwich. Thomas is described as a caretaker and a groom is also in residence. As it was only used for weekend and occasional entertaining purposes, their duties cannot have been too heavy, but Thomas failed in his when Edith Rigby, a noted Suffragette, carried out an arson attack on the property and it burned to the ground in July 1913. At the time of the attack it seems the Branfields were living in one of the lodges on the estate. Lever rebuilt the Bungalow (in stone rather the timber of the first building),and Lydia and Thomas were still there in 1915 when she is listed on the Roll of Midwives. They appear to have moved out by 1920 though.


South Lodge, Rivington


Phoebe Ann Rogers died at the home of her daughter, Alice Clayton on 22nd April 1914 at the age of 90.

Back to 1500 – bring on the Middle Ages


St Mary the Virgin, Shipton under Wychwood

As one delves deeper into family history, the burden of proof on a fact or relationship necessarily loosens. Whereas the nineteenth century is fairly rich in documentation that can back up the basic assumptions and give a sheen of truth (paternity always remains a theory!), the records of the eighteenth century and earlier must too often force one to give way to the presumption of “most probable” or even “possible”.

In a previous article (here) I gave my reasoning for the identification of the Richard Burson who died at High Cogges in 1725 with the individual of the same name who was born in Milton under Wychwood in 1643 and had his children baptised at St Mary the Virgin, Shipton under Wychwood from 1670 to 1696. I feel the evidence is strong and almost falls into the category “proven”. With this in mind I have attempted to trace this line back further, and through the female line I have been more successful than I dared hope.


Marriage of William Burson and Katherine Careles 1587

The parents of Richard Burson were William and Joan (nee Hobby) who married at St Mary’s, Shipton (where all the following details are recorded in the parish register) on November 23, 1629. They had five children baptised in Shipton, Richard being the youngest. Apart from his being a churchwarden for the village of Milton under Wychwood (part of Shipton parish) in 1669, I have so far been unable to find out little more about William. He is recorded as having signed (or marked) the Protestation of 1641, along with his brother, Thomas and nephew, Richard. He died in 1674, and his wife Joan had died five years previously. He was the son of another William Burson who had married Katherine Careles in 1587. The parish register entry (above) records that William came from the parish of Willersey “in Worstershire” – it is now in Gloucestershire and may always have been, but it is very close to the county boundary. Sadly the registers there do not survive before 1600 and it may be impossible to take the Burson line back much further. There are some Burson wills for Willersey, and that of John Burson in 1579 mentions the testator’s youngest son, William who is bequeathed 50/-. Without the registers to confirm whether or not William is mentioned again, it is difficult to be certain that this is the same individual. We do know that the William who heads the Milton line was a carpenter, as this is stated at the baptism of his son, Thomas, and when he died in 1623, he left a will with bequests to his two sons, William and Thomas and the remainder of his estate to his wife, Katherine. The inventory of his goods values the estate at £7 18s 4d.


The mark of William Burson on his will of 1623

Turning to Joan Hobby, her baptism is recorded at St Marys on November 14, 1602, where her father is named as Thomas Hobby of Shipton. Thomas had married Barbara Smith in 1591 and the register of St Marys describes him as “of Camden”, which I take to be Chipping Campden in Gloucestershire. Like Willersey the registers of Chipping Campden do not survive for this period (they commence in 1616) so we cannot take Thomas’ line any further back. He and Barbara had a son, also named Thomas and eight daughters. Thomas junior is probably the individual who appears in the registers of Ascott under Wychwood from 1621, and at least two other daughters married in Shipton, besides Joan. Thomas Hobby senior served as churchwarden there in 1595 and 1610-1.


Marriage of Thomas Hobby and Barbara Smith 1591

I have a had more success with the Smith family from which Barbara hailed. Despite there being several Smith families in Shipton at this period, it is possible to trace some of the lines. Barbara was christened in 1568, probably the youngest child of Thomas and Alice Smith (nee Andros – most likely a local spelling of Andrews). A brother, John was baptised the day before her, but was buried on the day of Barbara’s baptism, May 2nd. It is likely that they were twins and John was baptised in a hurry as he was sickly from birth. Thomas served as churchwarden of Shipton (the family, like the Hobbys always appear as residents of Shipton) in 1585 and at his burial in 1587 he is described as a “freehoulder”. He too left a will but no inventory survives so we cannot be sure of his economic status. He was certainly fairly prosperous though. He left money bequests to his two surviving unmarried daughters, Denys (spelt Deans in the will) and Barbara (spelt Barrbrowe) of £13 6s 8d each, to be payed when they married or attained the age of 23. He also left bequests to his son, Rafe (Ralph), his two sons-in-law, Rafe Brayne and Richard Cooke (who belonged to a wealthy butcher family) as well as to his eight grandchildren who mostly received “on shype” – one sheep. There are also bequests for the children of his brother, Richard as well as his “best coote …..and brychys” for Richard himself.

The mention of his brother and the names of his children make it possible to take the line back one further generation, perhaps. Although the parish register of St Marys, Shipton under Wychwood commence in 1538 and are fairly complete, if a little muddled in places, there are infuriating periods when the parentage of children being baptised is not given; so one has “Christened Elizabeth Smith” and the date. To add to the confusion, there was certainly another pair of brothers in Shipton named Thomas and Richard Smith. These are often distinguished however, by the addition of “Mr.” or “gent” or “servant to Sir Edward Unton” (the lord of the manor of Shipton at the time), whereas Barbara’s family are normally “of Shipton”.

There is the will of one Nicholas Smith who was buried in Shipton on August 6 1562, in which he leaves the bulk and remainder of his estate to his son, Richard. There are however, two bequests to Rafe Smith and Jane Smith, the children of Thomas. There is no mention of a relationship, but they come at the head of the list of legacies and it must be assumed that Thomas is another son and the children mentioned, Nicholas’ grandchildren. In 1561, Barbara’s father, Thomas Smith would have had just the two children – Rafe and Jane. These names do not seem to repeated in any other of the Smith families in Shipton. It is possible that Nicholas fell out with Thomas, but was minded to remember his grandchildren, or it may just be that Thomas inherited the land tenancies whilst Richard did not share in them.


Marriage of Thomas Smith and Alice Andros

Thomas Smith had married Alice Andros on November 18,  1548, and at his burial in 1587 it is noted that he was “allmost or about 60 yeare oulde”. This would place his birth around 1527, so it is more than likely that Nicholas, if indeed he was Thomas’ father, would have been born very close to 1500. In the Victoria County History of the parish of Shipton under Wychwood (not yet published but available in draft online) there is mention of one of the sokemen (a class of free tenant of a manor) of Shipton, Nicholas Smith, who held c170 acres of manorial land in 1547. A study of the manorial court records of Shipton may deliver the answer to the descent of the Smith family and could possibly take the line back into the 15th century or before.


Ilustrations courtesy of the Oxford History Centre.
I have standarised the spellings for clarity’s sake – Smith often occurs as Smythe in the registers, and Hobby as Hobbie.
I am in the process of transcribing the three wills mentioned and they will appear in due course on the OHFS transcribed wills site (here)

Oxfordshire Cousins


St Mary the Virgin, Shipton under Wychwood


My ancestor John Flexney, blanketweaver of Witney married Sarah Burson at the Quaker Meeting House on Wood Green, Witney on November 26th 1723. The certificate shows that Sarah was the daughter of Richard Burson (here spelt Bussen) a wheelwright of High Cogges. Among the witnesses were her sister Alice and brother George, as well as John’s parents, John and Ann. There is also the signature of a William Roach with those of other relations. Six years later, Sarah’s sister Alice was to marry here too, her husband being one Henry Partlot (Partlett) of Northleigh.

I have been unable to find any further details of this Burson family in the past, but now, with the publication of the Oxfordshire Parish Registers on the internet, it is possible to see connections and relationships that I was not previously aware of.

The Burson family in Oxfordshire were mainly concentrated in the parish of Shipton under Wychwood close to the border with Gloucestershire. They seem to have arrived in the area (possibly from Gloucestershire) in the late 16th century and there were several Richards around the middle part of the 17th century who I had noted, but couldn’t previously link with the one in Cogges. The breakthrough came in linking the entries in the registers with the names contained in the wills of Richard of Cogges (died 1725 – for a transcript click here) and his son George (Sarah’s brother) in 1760(for a transcript click here). In Richard’s will he names sons, William, George, John and Joseph as well as daughters Alice and Sarah Burson and their married sisters Anne Roach and Rachel Knighton. He also leaves bequests to a daughter-in-law, Mary Burson, a son-in-law, James Shailor, a granddaughter, Jane Hanks and others. There are other relations mentioned in the will of his son, George; his sister, Susannah Bunting then deceased, a niece Jane Harwood, some Burson nephews and several others bearing the names of Parlett, Hanks and Flexney, the latter including his sister, Sarah. What is also interesting in George’s will is that he leaves bequests to the poor of the parishes of both Cogges and Shipton as well as property in Shipton and Milton under Wychwood (a village in Shipton parish). The bulk of his estate is left to Henry Parlett, the son of his sister, Alice.

Having all these family names I began to check them against the registers of Shipton under Wychwood. There was a Richard Burson (born 1642, the son of William and Joan) whose childrens’ baptisms are recorded in the the period 1670-1696. The names listed there are Richard, Ann, William, Elizabeth, Mary, John, Rachel, George, Joseph, Susannah and Alice. This corresponds so closely to the names in the Cogges wills that I assume the Shipton Richard and the Cogges Richard are one and the same. The anomalies are easily explained – the eldest son, Richard is the individual who married Mary Holland (the daughter-in-law of Richard’s will) and died in 1721. Elizabeth I cannot find, but there is a baptism of Sarah Burson recorded on March 12, 1688/9; however, the father is recorded as Will: (William). There was a William Burson whose children were being baptised around this period, but in fact there is a christening of a son of this William just under 6 months after that of Sarah – on September 8, 1689. I believe that the clerk had made an error in the register (which were often written up from rough notes every year) and the father should be Richard. Although this is supposition, we do know that this Richard did have a daughter named Sarah, and no further evidence of a daughter of William is noted after this.

Apart from the similarity of the names recorded in the wills and registers there is, I believe, more evidence to give weight to the idea that the two Richard Bursons are identical. If one looks at the details of the lives of Richard’s children (where we can find them) there are other striking coincidences. I would suggest that Richard spent most of his life at Milton under Wychwood, having all his children baptised at St Marys, Shipton and then at some date, probably in the late 17th century, moved to Cogges where he purchased a house and leasehold estate from William Blake, a wealthy wool merchant who had established schools in the parish and had built the Buttercross in Witney. He also bought land at Bernard Gate, a small hamlet to the east of Cogges.


St Mary’s, Cogges

Ann Burson was baptised at Shipton in 1671, the daughter of Richard Burson of Milton. In 1709 she married William Hanks of Lyneham, another hamlet of Shipton parish and their eldest child, Jane was born there the following year. William died in 1711 leaving his wife “great with child” according to his will, and when a son was born he was baptised William in 1712. Ann must have married again at some point in the next nine years for in her father’s will written in 1721, Richard leaves bequests to his granddaughter Jane Hanks, and his sister, Ann Roach. I believe that Ann’s new husband was William Roach of Cogges; a burial there in 1743 gives “Anne wife of William Roach”. Although aged 68 at the time, William married within the year, and his will of 1757 mentions Jane Harwood his “daughter-in-law”. Now a daughter-in-law as we would understand the term would have the same surname as her father-in-law, but the expression was commonly used at the time to indicate a step-daughter. Jane Harwood (who we shall return to) is the Jane Hanks of Richard Burson’s will. In the will of George Burson, Jane Harwood is a legatee as well as the five children of “my nephew William Hanks” – Jane’s younger brother. When Jane married Thomas Harwood in 1732, she is described as “of Cogges”, so was presumably living with her mother, now Ann Roach.

Richard’s fifth child, Mary Burson married James Shaylor (or Shailer etc.) in 1708 in the parish church at Waterstock near Thame. I can find no evidence as to why they married there, but in the register both parties are described as “of Shipton in the parish of Milton” – the clerk got the two village names reversed. I believe Mary is the individual whose burial on April 12, 1715 is recorded in the Shipton register. In Richard Burson’s will a bequest is left to his son-in-law, James Shailer, and in George’s there is a similar bequest to his nephew Henry Shayler, presumably Mary and James’ child.

Richard’s daughter Susannah was baptised in Shipton in 1693. When she married Henry Bunting at Witney in 1719, she is described as “of Cogges” which lends further evidence to the family having moved there. Strangely Richard does not name her in his will, but George leaves a bequest to his sister, Susannah Bunting.

Finally Alice, the youngest of Richard’s children, baptised at Shipton in 1696 was married, as we have seen above, to Henry Parlett at the Witney Quaker Meeting House in 1729, giving Richard as her father on the certificate. Her son, another Henry was the main legatee of George Burson, receiving the bulk of his estate and all his property in Cogges, Milton and Shipton.

I think there is enough evidence to be sure that the Richard Burson who was born in 1642 and had twelve children baptised at St Marys, Shipton under Wychwood, is the same individual who later lived at High Cogges and died in 1725, having made his will four years earlier. However, there are one or two caveats. The first concerns the baptism of a daughter Sarah (my ancestor) which I think I have settled above, Even if the baptism of 1689 is not correct, we know that Richard did indeed have a daughter of that name who married John Flexney in 1723. Secondly, I cannot find a marriage for Richard and his wife Jane anywhere in Oxfordshire or Gloucestershire, and neither can I find a burial for either of them, although assuredly Richard had died prior to July 1725 when probate of his will was granted to his son, William. One final interesting point is the age at which several of Richard’s daughters married – Ann at 38, Mary at 32, Sarah at 34 and Alice at 33. For the time, this is surprisingly older than the norm.

I have at several times mentioned Jane Hanks, the granddaughter of Richard Burson. She was born at Lyneham in 1710 and baptised at Shipton on July 23rd.

Following her father’s death in 1711 her mother, Ann remarried and Jane and her younger brother, William (born posthumously) lived in the household of her step-father, William Roach, an “Ale Draper” (an archaic expression for a publican) of Cogges. It may well be that Ann moved into her father’s house at Cogges in the first place and that was how she met her new husband. Jane, who had recieved a bequest of £5 in her grandfather’s will (a considerable sum in this context as her mother Ann only recieved 1/-) married Thomas Harwood at St Marys, Witney on August 28, 1732 when, as we have seen she was living at Cogges. The family seem to have settled in Witney and had ten children baptised at St Marys, the youngest being Hannah in 1756. Jane was left another £5 in the will of her uncle George following his death in 1760. George had also left £5 to a nephew of his, Edward Flexney, who was the youngest son of his sister, Sarah and John Flexney. So Jane Harwood and Edward Flexney were first cousins. It is interesting that Hannah Harwood was to marry a Richard Flexney in 1778 and although on the Licence and in the register of St Marys, Richard describes himself as “of Newbury”, I have always assumed he was the son of Edward, born in 1756 and baptised in 1759 (the family previously being Quakers). It would seem odd that someone from Newbury would marry a Witney girl without a strong connection between the families – there were no Flexneys in the Newbury area at the time – and the fact that Richard and Hannah might be cousins adds weight to the theory that Richard was indeed the son of Edward Flexney.


Document images courtesy of OFHS


What I did on my holidays…..



Castle Street at junction with Peter Street c1900

Last week I spent several days in Bristol with my son and our time largely revolved around sporting events (football, rugby and golf); I did however, manage to squeeze in two days at Bristol Record Office, hoping to fill in gaps in my family history and several interesting facts were discovered. Here is a summary of what I found.

Drew and Horwood families of Bristol

The relationship between the early Drews was something I had conjectured, but much of it is now firmed up. I had seen the entry for the marriage of John Drew and Joan Gillson in 1603 before, but on a rather underpowered microfiche reader where much wasn’t clear. This time I used the BRO’s finest and largest reader and saw the entry (below) in better detail. Interestingly it shows Joan’s occupation, that of servant to Thomas Clement the elder. Several of the brides in this section of the register of St Phillip and St Jacob are identified by their fathers or employers, which is something I had not encountered before.



I had assumed from other parish register entries that Robert Drew (1607-81) the housecarpenter was the son of this marriage, and in the Apprenticeship Book of Bristol I found confirmation. The entry (below) is in latin but states that on February 27 1626 (old style 1625) Robert Drew son of John Drew husbandman, deceased, of Barton Regis bound himself apprentice to John Friend, carpenter and his wife Thomasine for a term of seven years. This corresponds to the information given when Robert was enrolled in the Book of Burgesses of Bristol in 1635.

I was aware of a lease granted to Robert’s eldest son, John of a piece of land named Gaunts Hammes which lay in Barton Regis in the eastern part of St Phillips and St Jacobs parish (now called Barton Hill) and I wondered if it was connected to the land that John’s grandfather farmed in the early part of the century. This plot was passed down in turn to John’s sons. On viewing the lease dated March 25, 1666, it appears that the land was previously leased on the lives of John’s wife Dorcas (nee Fussell) and her sister, Mary, so my theory was incorrect. There is still a public park in Barton Hill called Gaunts Ham Park.


I have found further leases granted to the Drews and their related families – Pages, Tylers and Shorts which help plot the fortunes of the various branches of the descendants of Robert Drew, one which is intriguing. A lease of 1723 grants a group of properties in Redcliffe Pit, which is close to the Quaker burial ground near St Mary Redcliffe, to Walton Short on condition that he repair them as they had fallen into ruin under the previous lesee. Now Walton was a cordwainer (shoemaker) by profession, so it may be that his brother-in-law, John Horwood the housecarpenter carried out the work. Also it could be possible that John began to reside in the the renovated properties after Walton died in 1728. He certainly appears to have left St James parish around this time and he doesn’t appear as a householder in any record after that date that I can find. Moreover at his death in 1744 he was living “at his house on Redcliffe Hill”.



John Horwood had been  granted a lease on a plot of land in Queen Square in 1709 on the condition that he build a “mansion house” there. The lease was to run until 1756, but is not mentioned in John’s will, so I assumed he assigned it elsewhere. In 1732 the leaseholders in the Square petitioned the Corporation of Bristol for new leases, which were granted over the next couple of years. John’s property (most likely no.19 or 20 in the current numbering) was, by this time, in the possession of John Brickdale Esq and no clue is given as to when the transaction took place. The new lease does record, however that John had built, in addition to the mansion house, “Warehouse, lofts, Coachhouse, stable and other necessary outbuildings” at the rear of the house and a yard or pavement between them. These outbuildings would have faced onto today’s Welsh Back.



John York of Chewton Mendip
John York of Chewton lived from 1732 to 1818 and farmed the York holding in the East End tything of the parish. Later in life he was the Lead Reeve for the Waldegrave manor of Chewton. I have often thought he might be the John York who acted as a clerk for the parish vestry and whose fine hand can be seen in many parish documents. There was another John York in Chewton, but his dates don’t fit the timescale of the vestry records. There is a mention that the John who was the clerk was also a schoolmaster and in the BRO I found an indenture dated 1780 relating to the estate of a Robert Bath of Compton Martin deceased, in which John York, schoolmaster of Chewton Mendip was named as the administrator of the said estate, Robert having died intestate. What clinches the identification of the schoolmaster with John York of East End is the fact that the indenture names him as the nephew of Robert Bath. John’s mother was Dorothy Bath and he may have been Robert’s heir although there were other relatives mentioned in the document. Finally, the fine signature on the indenture, although having a few minor differences, is otherwise identical to John’s signature on his marriage to Ann Board in 1759. The indenture records the selling of the lands mentioned to a Joseph Vowles for £119.


Signature of John York on his marriage 1759


Signature of John York on the 1780 Indenture


Documents by permission of the Bristol Record Office

Flexney. By any other name….



The surname Flexney has a long but fairly undistinguished history in the western part of the county of Oxford. The origin of the name has given rise to two conflicting opinions. The standard history of Oxfordshire surnames maintains that it originated from a lost place name in the county meaning a field where flax grows, citing ancient field names, whereas another line of thought holds that the field names come from the surname and not vice-versa. This second theory has the origin of the name being the village and manor of Fleckney in Leicestershire. Around 1190 both this manor and that of Stanton in Oxfordshire passed into the hands of Robert de Harcourt of Bosworth. The surname “de Fleckney” is certainly present in Robert’s Leicestershire holdings in the early 13th century, and in 1211 one of the tenants of his Oxfordshire manor (thereafter Stanton Harcourt) was one Stephen de Flexneia. It would seem quite likely that the sub-tenants of one estate might move with their lord to another of his holdings, especially younger sons who had little chance of advancement at home.


St Michaels, Stanton Harcourt

In the Oxford Eyre Roll of 1261, which contained summaries of cases heard before circuit judges, the names Robert, John and Walter Flexney appear, and in 1273 a John de Flexneia held land and a mill at Standlake. By the following century one branch of the family had moved to the city of Oxford and were later to provide it with an MP, two mayors and several aldermen. These lines died out in the seventeenth century, but Flexneys remained in Stanton Harcourt and spread slowly into the surrounding areas only disappearing from the county around 1900.


Ralph Flexney MP and Mayor of Oxford on four occasions

My grandmother was a Flexney and in my research of her family, who lived in Witney for over 150 years, I found it difficult to reach back any further than the early 18th century. This is due in part to the lack of records, for several of the parish registers are deficient, but also the inability to distinguish between holders of the same christian name. Looking further back into the 17th century I was also puzzled by the fact that many of the Flexneys bore the alias of Hicks (sometimes Hickes or Hix). It seems obvious to me that all these individuals must be connected in some way, and although proof will probably never be forthcoming, it has been possible to reconstruct some lines.

Alias (or alias dictus) is a latin term meaning simply also or “otherwise called”. It was far more common in the 16th and 17th centuries than in later periods and had no sinister implications. Aliases often arose through inheritance from a maternal ancestor or adoption, and second marriages where the children of one marriage used both their natural and step-fathers’ surnames. Its modern equivalent is the hyphenated double-barrelled surname. In documents and parish registers it is often shortened to “als”.It is often the case that one name was used alone and in many cases I have found only one use of the alias for an individual in records, but nevertheless it is possible to see a lineal descent connecting all the bearers of the alias.


The first example of the Flexney alias so far found is a baptism at Stanton Harcourt on September 21st 1609 of a Maria, the daughter of William Flexeny alias Hixe, and the final one, in a pleasingly symmetrical manner, is the burial, again at Stanton, of a William Flexney alias Hicks on May 4th 1736. in between these events we can find eight individuals who are named with the alias in one form or another. In most cases the name Flexney comes first, but not always, and there are a few entries where Hicks alone is used and the identification fits a member of the Flexney family. All of these usages are in the Stanton/Standlake/Witney area with the exception of a Richard Hicks alias Flexney who lived in Cassington (between Witney and Oxford) and whose will was proved in 1645. The latter is particularly interesting as it gives a flavour of how loose the usage of the two names was. Richard starts his will as Richard Hicks alias Flexney but the first personal bequest is “to my sonne Edward Flexney alias Hicks” and later on he leaves ten shillings to “my daughter-in-law Eliz: Hicks”. Richard could not sign, but his mark is noted as “Richard Flexneys mark”.


Tracing back my line of the Flexney family, I am fairly confident (despite one or two strong probabilities which cannot be certain) in reaching a John Flexney who would have been born around 1665/70. He first appears in the documents relating to his obtaining a marriage licence for his wedding to Ann Tarry in 1694 at Cogges parish church. His name is given as John Flexney and he is described as a carrier of Curbridge in the parish of Witney. In the register of St Marys, Witney three baptisms are recorded for John son of John Flexyn of Curbridge (1695), Elizabeth daughter of John Flexyn (1699) and Anne, daughter of John Flexyn als. Hicks (1702). This appears to be the same family, and at some time before 1719 it seems that John left the Anglican Communion and joined the Society of Friends, or Quakers. His name first appears in that year as a member of the Monthly Meeting as Jno. Flexny call’d Hix (see illustration above). The Quakers were more straightforward in their speech and mistrusted the use of latin. John appears in the Quaker records again when his son John was married in 1723 and he and his wife Ann both sign as witnesses with the name Flexney. He may however, be the John Hicks who features in Quaker accounts being paid for the hire of a horse and horseshoes. Despite his Quaker connections it seems that John was buried at St Marys in 1726, and Ann followed him in 1730. Their son John only ever seems to have used Flexney as a surname and the alias ended with his father.


Signature of John Flexney on his marriage licence affidavit 1694

Further back from John we cannot go with certainty as there are no relevant baptisms in parishes where Flexneys still remained. However, several parishes registers for this period are lost and by using wills and following the alias it may be possible to link John to a Humphrey Flexney who died in February 1689 (Old style – we would call this February 1690). In his will Humphrey calls himself a husbandman which is a person farming land he held leasehold. He lived in Brighthampton, which although very close to Standlake, is actually in the parish of Bampton. The parish of Bampton was unusual in having three vicars and several small chapels as well as the mother church in Bampton itself. One of these chapels was at Shifford a tiny hamlet south of Brighthampton and the registers prior to 1726 are missing. It seems though that Brighthampton people used this as their parish church (Stanlake church was closer but in a separate parish) and Humphrey is recorded as the Churchwarden there in 1641. However he and his wife Eleanor had their children baptised at Standlake and this is where we see the use of the alias. Their eldest son, Thomas was baptised in 1641 as the son of Humphrey Hix; the second son, John was baptised in 1643 and the surname then was Hix alias Flexney. At the baptism of their later children only the surname Flexney is given. There are no further entries for the family in Standlake, although we know Humphrey and Eleanor had at least one further child, Alice who is named in her father’s will. It is likely that Humphrey and Eleanor, and any of their children who died young were buried at Shifford.


Shifford Chapel in the 19th century. It had been ruinous and rebuilt in the late 18th 

Humphrey’s will gives us a little detail concerning his descendants and he leaves bequests to his daughter, Alice and her daughter, Amy as well as to his four other grandchildren: John and Elizabeth the children of his son John, and John and Humphrey the sons of his son William. I can find no record of any of these baptisms and so assume they were at Shifford as well. Humphrey’s son William died intestate in 1700 and no record of his burial can be found either. I think it is very likely that the John Flexney who married Ann Tarry in 1694 was one of the two grandsons of Humphrey to bear that name, but we shall probably never know which one. Curbridge, where John the carrier was first mentioned is only a little to the north-west of Brighthampton.


Humphrey would have been born around 1615 and it is frustrating that the Stanton Harcourt registers are missing for the periods 1586-1601 and 1612-1654, as I think it is most likely that Humphrey was born there. There were several Flexney families in the village at the time with at least two of them linked with the Hicks alias. One fact we may be able to deduce though is his mother’s name. In 1629 Humphrey Tanner of Brighthampton made his will and after bequests to his daughters Mary and Margaret, their husbands and children, he leaves the residue of his estate to his daughter Joahne (Joan) Flaxen (spelt Flexney in the probate). He also makes bequests to Humphrey, Joan and Margaret Flaxen who, although not specified, are surely the children of Joan. No Flexney husband is named and so is presumably already deceased. One assumes Joan would have passed on the estate to her son at a later date and this would explain how the Flexney family arrived in the parish of Standlake. However there is no clue as yet as to the origin of the Hicks alias.