When Parish Registers end…

All Saints, Shorncote

I’m sure every researcher of English family history has come across that dreaded message “the Register of ….. parish commences in 1770’ or some such, when you’re sure that you had ancestors in that parish before that date. Parish Registers were established on the order of Thomas Cromwell in 1538, but very few survive from the early days. Sometimes, even where early registers do exist, there can be gaps in later years owing to missing volumes. I have one line which cannot be researched further as the registers were destroyed by flooding and damp, and only exist from the 1750s onwards. On occasions however, other sources can be used to trace relationships back further where no registers survive. One such group of documents are wills.

My ancestor, Thomas Street (1751-89) married Sarah Hawkes (1750-82) at St Cyriac’s, Lacock in Wiltshire in 1775. Sarah was born in Tetbury, Gloucestershire, and I’ve no idea how she came to be in Lacock or how she met Thomas, although their children would one day return to her home town. Sarah’s parents were John Hawkes and Mary Rowley, but they were not originally from Tetbury. In the town records of Tetbury there is an entry on July 8 1740 stating that the Overseers, who administered Poor Relief on behalf of the parish, granted permission for John Hawkes, his wife Mary and children Thomas aged 4 and Mary aged 2 to remain in the town. This infers that they considered John unlikely to become a candidate for future charity from the parish funds. John’s occupation is difficult to be sure of; the register entry for his burial seems to say ‘currier’, but it might be ‘carrier’. However his son Thomas was certainly a currier in later records, so I would assume the former. The document also records that John and Mary came from Ashton Keynes in Wiltshire, less than ten miles away. John and Mary were to baptise a further eight children in their new place of residence.

The marriage of John Hawkes and Mary Rowley

On consulting the Wiltshire parish registers, which became available online later than the Gloucestershire ones, I discovered a suitable entry for John’s baptism: on April 14, 1712 the register of Ashton Keynes reads: John Hawkes (the son of John Hawkes lately deceased) was baptised. There were no other possible Hawkes entries that could be the considered likely. This in turn led me to two further entries; the burial of John Hawkes senior on April 10th, just four days earlier, and, more happily, the marriage of John junior and Mary Rowley, which took place at Malmesbury Abbey on September 14, 1732. The register entry records that they were both ‘of Ashton Keynes’and although the parish registers of Ashton Keynes go back to the 16th century, but I could find no further entries that might lead me to the origins of the Hawkes family. 

Here the lack of further finds held me back until the wills for the county of Wiltshire came online. I quickly found one for the John Hawkes who died in 1712 and it provided more information on his family. It confirms that he was a yeoman, as described in the burial entry, and furthermore it mentioned a bequest for his unborn child of £80, to be paid if that child survived beyond the age of seven.  It also names his wife as Mary, brothers William, Jonathan, Robert, Thomas and Daniel and sister Margaret; furthermore it mentions his widowed mother as Margaret too. There is an inventory of John’s estate appended, and this shows a total value of £156 10s, a tidy sum for those days. What is not mentioned in either the will or the inventory is land. Normally if John’s holdings were leasehold there should be a valuation of the outstanding term of the lease;  if copyhold or freehold this would normally be mentioned in the will. In all above ten acres (and possibly much more) can be accounted for in the inventory but did John possess any of this? There is also the mention of ‘Half the waggon half the plow and harrow and half the seedlup’; possibly John farmed someone else’s land (a brother?) and only owned what was grown or grazed upon it. The latter made up most of the value of the inventory. There are twenty head of cattle, three horses and 106 sheep in total accounting for about £112. In addition the crops both in the ground and stored come in at £21. Perhaps John realised that he had no land to leave his unborn child and therefore provided him with a generous cash sum instead. This might account for the fact that John junior followed a trade rather than become a farmer like his father. 

The 1712 Inventory

Whilst checking the Wiltshire wills I decided to investigate any other Hawkes items that originated in the same area, and noted several that were from the parish of Shorncote. This was somewhere I had never heard of (despite once living only a few miles away), and it happened to be a little to the north-west of Ashton Keynes. There was one in the name of John Hawkes dated 1693 but it turned out to be a grant of letters of administration (‘admon’) as the named deceased had died intestate. Interestingly it was granted to Margaret Hawkes, widow of John. It was in a very poor condition and the accompanying inventory too was damaged, but it did show that John was a yeoman and his estate was valued at £106 7s. It’s just supposition on my part, but I feel that John and Margaret were the parents of the John who moved to Ashton Keynes and died in 1712. 

The 1692 Inventory

Shorncote, like several other parishes has moved over the years into the jurisdiction of Gloucestershire (it lies just three miles south of Cirencester) and its parish registers are held by that record office; they do not commence until 1707 unfortunately. However the Bishops Transcripts which are very patchy and only exist for a few years in the 17th century, are held in Wiltshire. One of them records the baptism of a Robert Hawkes, son of John and Margaret, so he was presumably a brother of John. The parish of Shorncote is extremely small and a gazetteer of 1868 records ‘there is no village’; that remains true to this day and in the 1831 census the population was only 29 souls. It does, however have a pretty Norman church little altered over the years which stands alone in fields. So the lack of parish registers, without the assistance of any further earlier wills now closes the chapter on my Hawkes ancestors, but at least I was able to tease it back a further generation should my guesses prove correct.

The parish of Shorncote in the late 19th century

Second Fiddle – side-tracked again

Violin by B S Fendt I c1800-20

My Bumstead forebears originate in Suffolk, and my attempts to trace my ancestors there have been hampered by the lack of information available online for that county. I have managed a couple of visits to the Ipswich Record Office over the years, but haven’t yet exhausted the possibilities of research that further opportunities would yield.

My great great great grandfather, another Stephen Bumstead, married Betsy Wase at St Clements, Ipswich in 1801 and I have been able to trace Betsy’s family to the village of Bredfield, a little to the north-east of the town. Her father William had married Barbara Plant in 1774 and the marriage had produced seven daughters before Barbara’s death in 1784. William went on to a second marriage and a further four children including a, no doubt, much longed-for son. However, my interest in the fates of Betsy’s full sisters was halted by the lack of access to Suffolk parish registers. Recently I discovered a list of the inscriptions on the headstones in Bredfield churchyard, where I knew that William had been buried (his first wife, Betsy’s mother, Barbara had been buried in her home parish of Great Glemham). The list included William who died in 1823 and his eldest daughter, Barbara who died in 1801 aged 26. What intrigued me though was the following entry:

Caroline Manger, widow died at Deal, Kent 8 January 1890 aged 89 daughter of Caroline Fendt, buried in this churchyard, and granddaughter of William Wase formerly of this parish

St Andrews, Bredfield, Suffolk

The Caroline Fendt mentioned must be the third daughter of William Wase; she had been born about August in 1778 in Bredfield, but I had no more information about her. In searching her story I discovered the fascinating story of a family of luthiers (makers of stringed instruments) into which she married.

Baptism of Bernard Simon Fendt 1769

Caroline Wase married Bernhard Simon Fendt at St Martins in the Fields on April 13th 1799. I later discovered that Bernard Simon (as he called himself in England) was a Catholic, but like all non-Anglicans (excluding Quakers and Jews) he had to marry in a Church of England ceremony for the marriage to be legal. He had been born in Füssen in Bavaria in 1769, the son of Johann Martin Fendt and his wife Maria Anna (née Klotz). The town was known then as a centre for violin making and remains so today. Some of Bernhard’s mother’s family were noted violin-makers. At some point Bernard moved to Paris and trained as a instrument maker under his uncle François (originally Franz). He then moved on to London where he married Caroline. The couple had two children, Caroline born in 1800 and Bernard Simon in 1801. Both children were baptised at the Catholic chapel of St George, Southwark (later replaced by St Georges Catholic Cathedral near the same site). 

The next record for Bernard Simon I could find was a second marriage in 1810, so presumably Caroline had died in the meantime. It took a check on parish register transcripts for Suffolk to finally discover that Caroline had been buried, back in Bredfield, on October 4 1804; the register states ‘Caroline Fent aged 26’.  I hadn’t found any similar burials before, where a wife was buried in her home parish rather than her local one, apart from that of her mother, Barbara. Was this perhaps a family custom or a personal wish?

Bernard Simon Fendt’s second wife was Elizabeth White and the marriage took place once more in St Martins in the Fields. Bernard and Elizabeth had nine children, of which the eldest three boys, Martin, Jacob and Francis all became noted violin makers, their elder half-brother Bernard Simon II taking part in their training, along with their father. All three however died before their respective 45th birthdays with none of Jacob’s children continuing in the trade; neither of the others had any offspring. Jacob is considered the ablest of the three, producing many fine copies of Stadivarius instruments

Bernard Simon Fendt I is today considered the finest craftsman of the family; he worked in several workshops, notably those of Thomas Dodd and John Betts and he finally joined in a partnership with Charles Vernon. Very little of his work carried his own label but he is known primarily as a maker of copies of Amati instruments of a very high standard. He died in 1832.

Decorated violin by B S Fendt II c1830

His son of the same name is also recognised as a maker of superb instruments; he too worked in the shop of John Betts, and later went into partnership with George Purdy, a dancing and fencing master, selling other makers’ instruments as well as his own. He contributed a quartet of instruments to the International Exhibition of 1851, and he is especially regarded these days for the quality of his double basses. His personal life was, like his brothers it seems, burdened by hardship and poverty at times; it is recorded that Bernard Simon II was something of a spendthrift. He married Mary Fish in 1826 and they produced eight children; only one of them, William, is recorded as a violin maker. William is regarded as a talented craftsman, like his grandfather, father and uncles, but he died early, aged 20 of tuberculosis. It may be that the disease affected the other members of the family, many of them dying at such early ages; Bernard Simon II certainly died of it in 1852, the same year as his son, William.

I have wondered if the Fendt family had any contact with my Bumstead ancestors. Stephen Bumstead and Betsy Wase had at least three sons who moved from Ipswich to London in the 1820s; the eldest and my great great grandfather, another Stephen (1802-1846) was an almost exact contemporary of his first cousin, Bernard Simon II (1801-1852), and sometimes lived in similar areas of the capital.

Finally we come to Bernard Simon II’s full sister, Caroline, born in 1800. I can discover very little of her life apart from two marriages; she wed John Sadd in Woodford Essex in 1831, and the 1841 census found the couple in the Finsbury area of London where John was a Hackneyman. He died three years later and Caroline then married Richard Manger in 1848 in Dover. What occasioned these moves I cannot fathom, possibly work. Richard is variously described in census records as ‘late farmer’ and ‘proprietor of houses’; in his will of 1865 he describes himself as a gentleman, but the estate is worth under £160. This sum would not have included property however. Neither of Caroline’s marriages seems to have produced any children. As the headstone first referred to earlier records, Caroline died in Deal (where she mostly lived after her second marriage) in 1890, and yet obviously requested to be buried with her mother and grandfather in Bredfield. Her estate was valued at under £75.

If you wish to hear the beautiful quality of Fendt instruments, the following videos show Thomas Martin playing a Bernard Simon II double bass and Raphael Wallfisch playing a Fendt cello.

Thomas Martin playing a bass by B S Fendt II

George Broadribb and the joys of being sidetracked


I have written (here) previously about Joseph Noyes and the fact that one of his executors of his will was a George Broadribb, his nephew. I hadn’t found much on George before and presumed he was a son of one of Joseph’s sisters, and when I obtained a copy of Joseph’s will (for a transcription, see below), my interest was hightened by the fact that it also mentions three nieces of Joseph – a Mary Elizabeth, an Eliza and an Amelia Broadribb. Could these have been George’s sisters?

Houses at Withybrook Stoke Lane

Houses at Withybrook, Stoke Lane, where the Noyes lived

I first tried to establish George more fully in the records. He does, in fact, appear with Joseph and his wife, Elizabeth on the 1841 and 1851 censuses. First as a three-year-old (there are no relationships in the 1841 census) and then as a visitor in 1851. I knew he was a policeman from his second marriage in 1865, which I had found, and I finally discovered him in 1861, living in Clifton, Bristol, with a wife, Mary. Their marriage proved harder to find; I think it is the one recorded in the indexes in the January quarter 1859 between a Mary Ann Quick and a George Broadwell (sic). I know that their children were registered in the name Broadribb, mother’s maiden name Quick, so I presume this marriage was mistranscribed. I can’t find it in Bristol church records, so it must have been in the Register Office. George and Mary Ann had four children before Mary Ann’s early death in 1863; Charles Henry (b. and d. 1860), Mary Elizabeth (1861), Eliza and Amelia (1863), probably twins. So these must be Joseph Noyes’ ‘nieces’. Mary Elizabeth was later to marry a Henry Lane in 1881, but all three were unmarried in 1871 when Joseph drew up his will. Interestingly to me, Mary Ann Quick was born in Barnstaple Street, South Molton, Devon, not far from where I now live; her parents were Henry and Eliza, names used by the Broadribbs for two of their children.

Following Mary Ann’s death, George moved to Brompton Regis, near Dulverton in the far west of Somerset, on the edge of Exmoor. It was there he married Harriet Norman in 1865 and had a second family. Of his three daughters by Mary Ann, I have mentioned Mary Elizabeth’s marriage to Henry Lane. This took place in Shepton Mallet in 1881 and they had a large family. She had been shown in the 1871 census living with Joseph Noyes in Stoke Lane, as her father had in previous censuses. Eliza lived with her father and step mother for some years, appearing with them in the 1871 and 1881 censuses. By 1891 she was a domestic servant in Exmouth, but in 1901 she had returned to her parents’ household, now in Wellington in Somerset, where George is recorded as a retired police sergeant. In 1911 George and Eliza are still in Wellington although Harriet had died. George died in Carlingcott, near Bath, in 1922, and Eliza, after returning to the Dulverton area, still unmarried, died in 1945. Amelia seems to have followed her father to the Dulverton area, but always appears in the household of Andrew and Elizabeth Miles; when she attended school there, Andrew Miles is listed in the ‘parent or guardian’ column. In 1894 she married Lewis Richard May in Brompton Regis, and they and their family remained in the area until 1911 at least.

So far so good, but I still hadn’t found the exact link between Joseph and Elizabeth Noyes and this Broadribb family, although it was obviously close. On his second marriage certificate, George gave his father as Charles Broadribb, a farmer. I couldn’t find him on the 1841 census, and, as George was then living with the Noyes, I assumed he died soon after George’s birth. In time I found a marriage for him in Bristol – at Temple church, where the Noyes family had connections. It was to a Johanna Bell, and that must be the link as Joseph Noyes’ wife had been Elizabeth Bell, and they had married two years previously at Temple church. So the Broadribb family were not blood-related to the Noyes at all. Charles Broadribb’s burial is recorded at Stowey, Somerset in 1840, but his abode was given as Stoke Lane; this again ties in with George’s place of birth (often given as Stowey, sometimes as Chew Magna, the adjoining parish) and with Joseph Noyes’ residence at Stoke Lane. Johanna Broadribb later married John Convin and had a second family.

I have still been unable to establish a death record for Elizabeth Noyes née Bell though and so do not know when the Broadribb family came into their inheritances. It is most likely hers is the death recorded in the Cardiff district in 1886, as her great-niece, Mary Elizabeth Lane, née Broadribb and her husband moved to Barry around this time and it is possible that Elizabeth went to live with them.

Joseph’s will also includes a bequest of £50 apiece for his brother, William and sister, Sarah.




Transcription of the will of Joseph Noyes

This is my last Will and Testament

of me Joseph Noyes Cordwainer in the Parish of Stoke Lane otherwise

Stoke Saint Michael in the County of Somerset First of all I give and

bequeath unto my beloved wife Elizabeth Noyes after my decease my

Dwelling House and Garden with all the Furniture were I now reside

and I also Give unto my Wife a Dwelling House and Garden

adjoining the same and I also give unto my Wife Three pieces or

parcels of Land called Still Croft, Thomas’s Close, and Little Field

and I also give unto my Wife a Cottage and Garden in the

occupation of Joseph Ward And I also give unto my Wife a Piece or

Parcel of Land situated at East End in the said Parish in the

occupation of Benjamin Treasure Altogether for her benefit enduring

her natural life and if the said Rents is not sufficient for my

Wife’s support I advise her to take up some money on the Land

for her use and benefit for her natural life And after my Wifes

decease I give and bequeath unto my Nephew George Broadribb

my Dwelling House and Garden where I now reside and also a piece

or parcel of Land situated at East End in aforesaid Parish now

in the occupation of Benjamin Treasure I also give and bequeath

unto my Niece Mary Elizabeth Broadribb the Dwelling House and

Garden now in the occupation of Samuel Plaister and after the

decease of me Joseph Noyes and my Wife Elizabeth Noyes I give

unto my Nice Mary Elizabeth all my Household Goods and

Furniture and the sum of Twenty pounds of Lawfull money and if

Mary Elizabeth Broadribb should die without Issue her part to be

divided between her two sisters Amelia and Eliza Broadribb and if

George Broadribb should die before he is in possession the said property

to be equally divided between his children and after the death of my

Wife I give and bequeath unto my Sister Ann George and my Will is

for her to sell the three pieces or parcels of Land aforesaid named and to

pay unto my Nephew George Broadribb the sum of Seventy Four pounds

and Mary Broadribb twenty pounds and Kate George the sum of

fifty Pounds and to Sarah Noyes the sum of Fifty Pounds and to

William Noyes the sum of Fifty pounds after all the said Legacies paid

I give the rest to my Sister Ann George And also nominate and appoint

George Broadribb my Executor and nominate and appoint Ann George

Executrix to this my last Will and Testament Dated the first

day of February One thousand eight hundred and seventy – In witness

whereof I the said Joseph Noyes have hereunto set my hand and


                  Joseph Noyes

The Testator Joseph Noyes was late of Stoke Lane otherwise Stoke Saint

Michael in the County of Somerset, Cordwainer, and died on the 2nd day

of March 1875, at Stoke Lane otherwise Stoke Saint Michael aforesaid

Under £100

6 folios

Extracted by John Valder, Soicitor, Shepton Mallet

Double Probate passed at Wells 

Litchfield December 1875


A Criminal Past

My gggg grandfather, William Noyes (1784-1850) had always been one of those shadowy ancestors, about whom I knew little, save for the usual references in parish registers and censuses. I was lucky, finding from his son’s marriage certificate and the 1841 census that he was a miller, but that is all. As he died prior to the 1851 census I didn’t even have his place of birth. I am descended from his son, another William who, although he married and lived all his life in Bristol, was born, according to various censuses at ‘Murtrey’ or Murtree’ in Somerset. This took some tracking down, as today the name only exists in the form of a hill, farm and bridge (Murtry Hill, Murtry Hill Farm, Murtry Bridge) in the area between Frome and the village of Buckland Dinham, a few miles to the north-west. Further research established that, in past times, a mill had existed near the bridge over the Mells river. This appears to be where William snr worked and possibly where William jnr was born.

Following the availability of the Somerset parish registers online, I have been able to locate the family more precisely, and this is what I discovered. William Noyes married Sarah Clavey at St Michaels, Stoke Lane on October 7 1805, and had nine children baptised in the same church between 1806 and 1823. The earlier baptisms (pre 1813) do not give the parents’ abode, but the later ones show William and Sarah at differing addresses. Elizabeth Martha (1813) Ann (1814) and William jnr (1816) all give Buckland Dinham, Eliza (1817) has Wells and finally Charlotte (1823) has Mells. It may be that Wells is an error for Mells, which lies halfway between Murtry and Stoke Lane, but equally it is not too far from this area.


Stoke Lane Sept 2011 001 copy

St Michaels, Stoke Lane before restoration

All of this information, and more on the respective families, I have written on previously (here) but I had little more on William snr. I knew he was living in Temple parish in Bristol in 1841, with his wife Sarah, daughter Maria Eliza and son William and his young family; he is described as a miller. He died at Russell Street, Redcliffe in April 1850 and Sarah died in June of that year; both were buried in St Mary Redcliffe churchyard. A recent discovery has shed new light on William and given me a description of his appearance; in an age when few of the working classes were photographed, a very welcome find.

William was tried at the Gloucester Lent Assizes in 1828 and sentenced to one month in prison. The crime was larceny and the charge read: ‘Charged upon the oaths of Obadiah Dee & Jonathan Dee with feloniously stealing at the parish of Oxenhall from the house and mill of the said Obadiah Dee a pair of breeches of the value of 20s the property of the said Obadiah and a waistcoat of the value of ten shillings the property of the said Jonathan Dee on the 25th day of January instant’. William’s age is given as 43 and his address as Ratcliff, Bristol, which I take to be Redcliffe. Presumably William was working well away from his home in Bristol; Oxenhall is near Newent, north-west of Gloucester itself. Crooke’s Mill was a corn mill and the 1833 Poll Book for Gloucestershire shows Obadiah Dee as the occupier.

Whatever the facts of the case, Obadiah Dee did not make a success of his mill; he went out-of-business in the 1830s and the time of the 1851 census he is described as ‘a pauper, formerly a miller’. Jonathan appears to have been the son of Obadiah, and his occupation ‘woodman’ in 1851.

In some ways William might have regarded himself as fortunate in his sentencing. On the same page of the Assize records, there are four other cases of theft; one defendant was found not guilty, but the other three all were declared guilty and suffered sentences of seven years transportation for a 16-year-old and death for the other two. Admittedly they stole items of greater value, and one involved burglary, which always carried a heavier sentence. One benefit for me of finding the record of William’s case is that the records give description of him. He had ‘Dark sandy hair, sandy beard, cross eyes with rt. eye, eyes far in his head, wide nose, a large mole under rt. eye, a mole under left eye, a scar on rt. eyebrow, a mole at the corner of right eyebrow, thin face, two moles on right cheek, a mole left side his neck, two moles on his throat, a mole rt. shoulder, scar upper joint three fingers, left hand little finger very crooked, legs much marked from burns, (can) read and write, heighth 5 8½ Not a very preposessing figure then. At least in court his conduct was described as ‘orderly’.

in 1829, the year after his imprisonment, the family’s position must have improved, and there is certainly no record of William getting into trouble at any other time. Sarah Noyes’ father, Abraham Clavey, died at the advanced age of 87. In his will he left Sarah some of his property in Stoke Lane for her life – the house with pasture land of roughly ten acres named Fussells which he had inherited from his mother. There were stipulations however; Sarah had to pay off a mortgage Abraham had raised on it, which required the outlay of £8 p.a. for the next six years; she also had to pay her two spinster sisters 1/- a week for the course of their lives (Mary died in 1835, but Elizabeth was to outlive Sarah by 15 years). Following Sarah’s death, the property was to go to the Noyes’ eldest son, Joseph. Presumably Sarah rented out Fussells, as there is no indication that the family ever moved back to Stoke Lane.

Many of the fates of William and Sarah’s children are hard to find, but some can be pieced together. Joseph (1806-75), the eldest child, lived in Stoke Lane all his life, although he came to Bristol to marry in 1828 – five months after his father’s imprisonment. He married Elizabeth Bell at Temple church, the same church as his brother William was to wed in ten years later. Joseph was a cordwainer, also like William, and he and Elizabeth had no children. He lived at Withybrook, in a freehold property, presumably the one he inherited from his grandfather, Abraham Clavey. He died in 1875, but I can’t a record of Elizabeth’s death. In his will he named as executors his sister Ann George, a widow (see below), and his nephew, George Broadribb, a policeman.  From census records George appears to have been born in Stowey near Chew Magna in 1840, but I can’t find any record of that or a previous marriage – he is described as a widower at the time of his 1865 wedding. (For newer and further information on George and his link to the Noyes family, see here).

The next child of William and Sarah was Maria (b 1807), but I cannot find anything definite for her. She may be the Maria Noyes buried in Wells in 1818 aged nine. As mentioned above, William may have been working in Wells about this time. Thomas, the next son has left a stronger trail. He was born in late 1808/early 1809, and at some stage moved to London; he was baker by trade. His second marriage is recorded at St John’s Hoxton in 1839. He is described as a widower and his new wife is a Diana Ketteringam. His previous marriage may have been the one to Ann Watson at St Leonards, Shoreditch, six years earlier, but the two signatures do not seem similar. He seems to be living in Newington, Lambeth in 1841, although sharing a home with a Sarah Noyes – did Diana change her name, or was the enumerator mistaken? The 1851 census shows Thomas at his employer’s house in Queens Road, Chelsea – was he recorded there because he would have been working overnight? In any case he is shown as married, yet he also appears with his wife Diana, lodging in the Hanover Square district. Diana died two years later, but I can find no trace of Thomas thereafter.

Sarah (b 1810) may be the unmarried dressmaker living in Milk Street, Bristol in 1861. If so, she was still living there ten years later, described as a needlewoman. She died in 1880. The next daughter was Elizabeth Martha (b 1813) who, like her brother, Thomas, moved to London, and where she married Thomas Slaney Poole in Lambeth in 1842. Thomas was an engraver and ex-soldier, receiving a pension from Chelsea. They had four children before Elizabeth died in 1852; Thomas married again and later moved to Manchester.

The next daughter, Ann (b 1813) married James Victor George, a mariner, at St Augustine the Less, Bristol in 1839. It seems the couple had three children, James Victor (1841), Abraham Clavey (1843) and Kate Ann (1845), all being baptised at Temple church. In 1851, the parents, James and Ann are recorded as living in lodgings off Queen Square, but there is no sign of the children. By 1861 James had died and Ann was living with her two younger children, described as a cloth cap maker. Both boys married and had families, but Kate remained single, usually described as a needlewoman in census records. She died in 1901. Of the boys, James Victor was a plumber who lived all his life in Bristol and died in 1892; Abraham became a commercial traveller in headware having moved to London. He died in 1919. Their mother, Ann had died in 1887.

The third and youngest son, William (b 1816) my ancestor, is shown living in Temple parish in 1841, along with his parents and young family. He had married Eliza Pritchard, who hailed from Winchester, at Temple church in 1838. He was a shoe or boot maker like his elder brother Joseph, and lived and worked all his adult life in the Temple and Redcliffe parishes, latterly at Bath Parade, opposite Temple Meads railway station, in one of what had been the Redcliffe parish almshouses. William and Eliza had eight children, but only three lived beyond the age of five; Henry (1840-1904), Maria (1841-80) and Clara (1857-97). Henry worked on the railways in Bristol, spending his final years as a signalman in Shirehampton. I have told the sad story of Maria, my gg grandmother here. Clara’s story is a similarly tragic story. She seems to have formed a liaison with Edwin Jones, a printer, during the late 1870s. The 1881 census shows her living in Bedminster, an unmarried mother, with two children; Amy Clara Noyes aged four and Edwin E Noyes aged two. The latter I take to be the Edwin Jones E Noyes whose birth was registered in Bedminster in 1879. Ten years later a Jones family is shown living in St Philips; Edwin Jones aged 50, his wife, Clara aged 34 and two children; Amy, 14 and Edwin A (Arthur) aged nine. Also in the household is a ‘visitor’ Ernest Noyes aged 11 whom I assume is the son mentioned ten years before. All very complicated! Edwin and Clara didn’t marry (although Edwin was married to a Louisa in 1871) but just five years later in 1896 she did marry her cousin, James Pritchard at Bristol Register Office. Sadly she was to die of cancer just twenty months later, in November 1897. Her mother, Eliza had died in 1891 and her father, William three years later. William left a will, deviding his estate of just under £600 jointly between his surviving children, Henry and Clara.

3 Temple Gate, Bath Parade

Bath Parade – William Noyes’ shop and home is probably the second to the right of the pub, with a rectangular name-board

There is some mystery as to the next children of William Noyes the miller; a daughter, Eliza was baptised at Stoke Lane in 1817, but I can find no further trace of her, unless she is the infant butied in Wells the same year (see also Maria above). However there is certainly a daughter, Maria Eliza whose baptism I cannot find but who appears to have a birth date of 1820/1. She married Charles Smith, a tobacconist in 1843 and had a large family. Finally the youngest child was Charlotte, baptised at St Michael. Stoke Lane in 1823. I cannot find any reference to her, apart from this baptism. I presume she died in childhood.

The Distaff Side

St James c1800

St James, Bristol, early 19th century

One is conditioned, when researching family history, to concentrate on surnames, and it is natural to trace lines back in male descent as the surname remains (more or less) the same. I have been doing this with all my articles so far, describing the ‘Bumstead Family’ or the “Street Family’. However following the female direct line can be equally rewarding, even if rather more difficult, as the surname normally changes with each generation, and of course, many records are male-orientated; baptisms appearing as ‘so-and-so the son of John Smith’ etc. I’ve even come across marriages in parish registers where it is recorded ‘John Smith married his wife…’. Direct female lines of descent are important, not the least because they are the only lines that should be absolutely accurate, with no unknown parentage issues. They are also traceable in DNA terms, using a mitochondrial test, although with limited genealogical value.

I have decided, in this article, to trace my female line back as far as I can, which sadly is not as far as some of my other lines; all of my families, with the exception of the Bumsteads are, of course, initiated by at least one female ancestor, so a direct female line is as unique, in its way, as the direct male line. It is a fact that we can never normally find much evidence of the lives of our female ancestors – they are too often defined in relationship to the males of the family, and very rarely do occupations appear. As virtually all of my ancestors were ‘working class’, the females in census records or marriage certificates either have no occupation, or are ‘female servants’, laundresses, dressmakers or cleaners; important jobs and no doubt valuable in helping the family’s finances, but so often they feel stereotyped.

Joan second studio photo

Joan Ethel Gibbs

Joan Ethel Gibbs (1918-2006). My mother was the illegitimate daughter of Elizabeth Emily Gibbs. Her father is still unknown to me (as to her) and I am attempting, by DNA match results, to identify his family, even though he himself may always be elusive. I believe he was either Scottish or of Scots descent, judging by my DNA results and related matches so far. Joan was raised by her grandmother, Ada (below) and aunt, Mabel Martha Gibbs (1898-1956), living for most of her early life in Gay Street, Kingsdown, Bristol. Before her marriage to my father, she worked in the vast tobacco factories of WD & HO Wills in Bedminster, and following the outbreak of the Second World War, she worked for a while in a munitions factory in Filton.

Frank and Joan poss engagement

Joan and Frank Bumstead c1939

Elizabeth Emily Gibbs (1893-1964). My grandmother was the daughter of John Gibbs, a french polisher, and his wife Ada, née Street. She was born in Earl Street in the parish of St James, where the family had lived for many years. Her father died in 1907 and I cannot find the family at all in the 1911 Census, although by 1913 her mother was living in Gay Street in Kingsdown. At the time of my mother’s birth, Elizabeth was working in the Wills tobacco factory and living at 10 Doveton Street in Bedminster, just a stone’s throw away from her place of work. Two years after my mother’s birth Elizabeth married Herbert Samuel Eason, and they had seven children, all but the youngest surviving into adulthood. Although my mother and Elizabeth remained close, she lived with her grandmother during her childhood. I have very fond memories of my grandmother who always seemed to have a smile on her face (and a cigarette in her mouth!). As a child I often visited her, accompanying my mother, who called on her every week. I also liked her children, my step aunts and uncles, many of whom I knew well, and one of whom is still alive.

Elizabeth Emily Gibbs

Elizabeth Emily Gibbs

Ada Street (1868-1935). Like the Gibbs family, the Streets lived in St James parish, following Ada’s grandfather’s arrival in Bristol (from Tetbury in Gloucestershire) in 1824. Ada was born in James Street and married John Gibbs at Bristol Register Office in 1889. Her father, like his father before him were boot or slipper makers, and several of the family followed in this trade. Ada and John had seven children, five girls, followed by two boys. Life must have been hard after John’s death, and I cannot find the family at all in 1911, which leaves me to wonder if they may have been institutionalised for a time, although it would seem odd as the four eldest girls were presumably working and living at home. Ada was a strong personality and very kind-hearted and loving, especially to my mother. I believe she worked for a time as a cleaner at either St James parish church or its school.

Elizabeth and Ada Street

Ada Gibbs, née Street with my mother 1922

Martha Ann Gillard (1832-1909). Martha, like her daughter, Ada married at Bristol Register Office. Her husband was George Street (1828-1886), and the reason for a civil wedding may have been George’s Catholic upbringing. The marriage certificate gives Martha’s surname as Walker, but it was, in fact, Walters (Martha made her mark on the certificate) and she was described as a widow. Besides Ada, George and Martha Ann had six other children, however Martha also had a son from a former relationship with Nicholas Walters, Charles. Throughout his life Charles and his family either lived with, next door to, or very close to the Street family. I cannot find a marriage for Martha and Nicholas, so I assume there may not have been one, but Nicholas left a will, in which he left everything to his brother-in-law, Edward Hatherley, in trust for his mother and siblings; there was a bequest of £2 to Charles Gillard the ‘son of Martha Gillard’. Martha did not have a profession given on her marriage certificate or on the 1851 census when she was living with her parents, but in 1861, two years prior to her wedding with George Street, she is described as a boot-binder. This may be how she got to know George, as he and his father were boot makers or slipper makers. After George’s death, she is described on the census returns as a slipper binder, so she continued working in the same trade for most of her life.

Eliza Williams (1811-1852). Martha Ann’s parents were John Gillard and Eliza Williams, who were married at St Pauls, Bristol in 1828. John was a wheelwright by trade and the couple lived most of their lives in St James parish, like so many of this branch of my family. In fact in every census they appear in Cannon Street, just behind St James church. They also seem to have had troubled lives;  John may be the John Gillard found guilty of larceny in 1828, and Eliza is surely the Eliza Gillard who was declared bankrupt in November 1843, as she is described as ‘wheelwright”. I cannot see why she appeared in court rather than John. Eliza died in 1852 at the early age of 42 from phthesis (tuberculosis), from which she had suffered for two years. John was to die in the Stapleton workhouse in 1870 from paralysis, although the 1861 census already shows him there, described as blind.

Susannah ……(c1779-1844) There is very little to be found regarding Eliza’s mother, Susannah. She died in Little James Street of paralysis, aged 65 and is described as the widow of John Williams, a mason. I cannot find a marriage for them although the couple have children baptised at St James, starting with Elizabeth in 1809 and ending with Ann Susannah in 1825. The only marriage that seems to fit is one at St Pauls church in 1799, but it begs the question as to why they waited ten years to start a family – could it be that they moved elsewhere in the meantime? If this marriage were correct, then Susannah’s surname was Bevan. However, there was a couple living in Redcliffe parish in the early 1800s who had their childrens’ births registered in the Quaker records – they were John and Susannah Williams too, and despite the Anglican marriage, this may have been them as I cannot find a suitable Quaker wedding .

So Susannah brings me to the end of my account of my maternal line; it’s sad that I have so little detail and cannot take it any further, but then several of my male lines disappear about this time too – the Gibbs for instance, and also I’m unable to find a convincing background for John Williams.

Streets and Caves revisited

I have written before (here) about the brick wall in my Street family history; the uncertainty of whether or not George Street (c1805-1868), my ggg grandfather, was the son of John and Sarah Street of Tetbury. In my mind, the balance of probablility had always been that this is the case, but I’ve now had my conclusion confirmed by DNA testing. 

The third son of John and Sarah (née Cave) was William Street (1803-1890) who emigrated to Australia in 1827. He had married Elizabeth Peart shortly before their departure, and they had ten children born in New South Wales between 1829 and 1850. Their second daughter, Mary Ann (1830-1902) had two marriages, and recent DNA test results show a degree of cousinship (5th cousin) between myself and a descendant from each of these marriages. Although these degrees of relationship must be taken as broad (the amount of DNA material match suggesting anything between 5th and 8th cousins) the fact that both have similar amounts from separate lines indicates the general degree may be correct. 

William Street 1803-1890

William Street (1802-1890)

All this would appear to confirm that my George Street was the brother of William – I cannot find any other individual in either the Street or Cave families who might qualify as my ancestor. With this in mind I’ve decided to incorporate these lines into my family tree. The two families are interesting in their own ways, and so I’ve recorded what I have discovered about them.

The Caves of Owlpen


Holy Cross church Owlpen

Church of the Holy Cross, Owlpen

Owlpen is a pretty, but very small village, tucked into a Cotswold valley, a short distance from Uley. The earliest member of the family I can trace is Lionel Cave, who was buried in Owlpen churchyard in 1729; his wife, Jane had died three years earlier. It is possible that Lionel’s father bore the same name, as a document at the National Archives at Kew, records a property dispute at Owlpen between a Lionel Cave and Margaret Purnell in 1658. As the parish register of Owlpen only commences in 1686, and the bishops’ transcripts (BTs) are very patchy before that date, all we know of Lionel is the date of his death and those of the baptisms of his children. The first of the latter to appear is that of a son, also Lionel (Lyonell in the BTs) on August 8th 1684, and we might assume that this was the first child of the marriage, although no marriage record has been found. It was probably not Lionel’s first child though, as the BTs have a baptism in March 1679/80 of a Sara, bastard daughter of Sara Webb, “Lyonell Cave being the reputed father’.

The nature and condition of the early registers make it difficult to be precise with details of the family, but Lionel and Jane appear to have had at least eight children. My line continues with the second son, Thomas of whom we know a little more. He was baptised on February 1st 1685/6 at the parish church of Owlpen, the Church of the Holy Cross, and later married Elizabeth Butcher at St Bartholomews in Nympsfield, the neighbouring parish. This was in 1709 when Thomas was 23, a normal age for marriage, as apprenticeships usually lasted from the age of 13/14 to 20/21 and men often married as soon as they were independent. We know from Thomas’ will that he was a broadweaver; it may be that Lionel had been as well, but no records confirm this, and, as a second son, he may have been apprenticed into a different trade from that of his father. A broadweaver, as the name implies, was one who wove cloth on a broadloom, and this was a flourishing trade in the area of the Cotswold escarpment – Stroud and Nailsworth in particular were two prominent centres, and the plentiful supply of fine wool from the flocks of the Cotswolds were, no doubt, the reason for this.

Thomas and Elizabeth had five sons (and no daughters) Lionel, George, Philip, John and Thomas, and all survived infancy, although George died aged 14. As there is no record of what he inherited, we cannot be sure how far Thomas bettered himself during his life, but on making his will in April 1740 he bequeathed to his wife at least six properties, with instructions as to which of his sons were to receive which property following her death. There were obviously tensions within the family, as twice in his will Thomas entreats ‘that everyone with their mother may agree and not to differ’. Two months later Thomas died and was buried in the churchyard of Holy Cross on May 12th. Elizabeth lived on for six years and joined her husband in the churchyard on June 26, 1746. The following year, Philip, the eldest surviving son, and named in the will as a Trustee, applied for probate in the ecclesiastical court in Gloucester. However the will itself was not legal as no executor was named, and so Philip was granted letters of administration, so that he might carry out its terms.

The next individual in my line of Caves was another Thomas, the youngest son of Thomas senior and Elizabeth. In his father’s will he had been bequeathed ‘the House and garden By the name of wightes House forever and his Heirs’ and we can presume this may have been his dwelling at the time, for, apart from “the House that I live in’ which was to go to Philip, Thomas senior’s other properties had named occupants. Thomas junior too, was a broadweaver (as several of his brothers appear to have been) and would have required a home large enough to house a broadloom. Thomas married Sarah Gingell, by licence, at Gloucester Cathedral on July 14, 1750. Sarah is described as of Frocester, but I cannot find a baptism for her there or anywhere else, although Gingell was a common enough name in the area; Thomas and Sarah’s own daughter Elizabeth was later to marry a George Gingell.

Owlpen tombstone 1

Memorial for Thomas and Sarah Cave, Owlpen

Thomas and Sarah were to have eleven children, three dying as infants and the eldest, another Lionel dying at 18; the others, two daughters and five sons appear to have prospered. Certainly by 1778, when Thomas sickened and made his will, his bequests name these seven survivors. It seems as if Thomas had been prosperous in his lifetime – his will mentions seven properties he possessed in the parishes of Owlpen, Uley and Avening, of which six appear to be freeholds, as well as some pasture which he says he had purchased. Some of these properties were purchased from his brothers, George and Philip. Thomas left his entire estate to his wife, with provisions that each son should receive nominated properties following their mother’s decease. The youngest, Philip was to receive his own cottage (with a ‘weaving shop’) after Sarah’s death; Philip was only eight years old at the time of his father’s death, but presumably intended for the family trade of broadweaving. As was usual, the girls were provided for in their father’s will by way of a charge being placed on the sons to provide them with annuities, as well as being left a ‘little cottage’ jointly after their mother’s death.

No doubt Sarah was well provided for, but her situation was to improve eight years later in 1786, when her brother-in-law, John Cave (another broadweaver), an elder brother of Thomas, died and left her the residue of his estate; he left some cash sums to all his nieces and nephews, and two properties to Thomas, Sarah’s son. Sarah herself died in 1799 and presumably her children then came into their inheritances. Sarah’s will was a more modest affair than Thomas’s; she left cash bequests to her surviving sons, with the residue of her estate being split between her two daughters. There is no mention of property as that had been allocated by Thomas. 

My line continues with John Cave, the second son of Thomas and Sarah. He had married eighteen-year old Hannah Holder at Owlpen church the year before his father’s death, on September 9, 1777. The marriage licence affadavit gives his occupation as ‘Pig killer’. I had always assumed this was a seasonal job, as slaughtering the family pig normally took place in autumn or early winter. Perhaps there was all-year-round work available too. Approximately ten years later, John and Hannah seem to have moved away from Owlpen. Their first five children were all baptised at Holy Cross church there, but the final three were baptised at St Marys, Tetbury. At some stage, and it may be around 1787, John took up farming in the Tetbury area. A Land Tax assessment of 1792 shows him renting land there from a William Fisher. Certainly by 1798, and possibly earlier, he was farming in the village of Long Newnton, actually in Wiltshire, but less than two miles from Tetbury; Land Tax records show him as renting land from the local landowner, Thomas Estcourt.

Holy Trinity, Long Newnton

Holy Trinity, Long Newnton

Of John and Hannah’s eight children, the eldest, Sarah is my forebear. She married John Street, a shoemaker, at St Marys, Tetbury on May 7, 1799, by licence. The licence allegation includes a sworn statement by Thomas Cave (Sarah’s brother) and Samuel Pitt (John Street’s brother-in-law) that Sarah’s father John gave his consent to the marriage, Sarah being only 20 years old. With this marriage, my link with the Cave family ends; Hannah Cave died in 1807 and John followed six years after, and they were buried in a table tomb in the churchyard at Long Newnton. Like the family tombs at Owlpen, inscribed copper plates give the dedications. Included is the name of Sarah Street who was to join her mother in 1808.

Long Newnton tomb

Long Newnton tomb 1

Cave and Street tomb, Long Newnton

The Streets of Lacock

John Street was a cordwainer, or shoemaker, and was born in Lacock, Wiltshire in 1776. His father and grandfather were also cordwainers, living in the same village, where the family had been established since the 17th century and possibly earlier, as there are records of the name Street going back to the 1550s. Lacock is now a much-visited tourist attraction, owing to the delighfully picturesque buildings, the village centre being hardly touched by the Victorian era, let alone the 20th century, and also the fact that many movies and TV progrmmes have been filmed there. This certainly helps with imagining how it might have looked in my forebear’s time.

St Cyriacs Lacock

St Cyriac, Lacock

The earlest member of my family who appears in the parish register is a John Street who died in 1691; his son, another John, had been baptised at St Cyriac, Lacock on December 3 1649, and he was to marry Olive Bush in July of 1676. They were to have seven children and my ancestor was the sixth child, William who was born in 1691. This William may have been a cordwainer, but the evidence is not clear; however his son, another William, born in 1724 certainly was; he is recorded as such in taking on an apprentice in 1753.

There is very little evidence of the family, apart from the parish register entries, but we do know a little more about Thomas, the son of William junior. He was one of only two children baptised by  William and Jane (I cannot find their marriage and do not know her surname); a younger brother, John was born in 1758, seven years after Thomas. Lacock Abbey was the family home of the Talbot family, and amongst their papers there are several refernces the Thomas, both paying and receiving amounts of money, presumably for rent and the settlement of bills. He is also recorded as the clerk of the ‘Lacock Senior Society’ though I’ve been unable to discover what that might have been; possibly a friendly society.

In 1775 Thomas married Sarah Hawkes in St Cyriacs church. Although Sarah is described as ‘of this parish’, she was actually born in Tetbury, about 15 miles away in Gloucestershire. She was the daughter of John and Mary Hawkes who, themselves, had moved from Ashton Keynes in Wiltshire to Tetbury in 1740, and were granted permission by the Overseers of the parish to stay.

Thomas and Sarah had four children baptised at St Cyriacs, John (1776), Jane (1778), William (1779) and the short-lived Thomas (1781-2). The latter was buried there too, in July 1782, just three months after his mother, Sarah, had been interred. Four years later, Thomas was to marry again; the wedding at St Cyriacs was on November 20 1786 and his bride was Alice Selfe, from another established Lacock family. Thomas and Alice had two children, Susannah (1788) and another Thomas, in June 1789, just months before Thomas senior died in September of that year, at the early age of 38. Thomas’s death obviously placed Alice in a difficult financial position; he died intestate (not having written a will), yet it was nearly three years later that Alice signed away her natural rights to apply for letters of administration, and thus administer Thomas’s estate. Perhaps she attempted to struggle along without doing so, but finally had to renounce her rights and allow John Grist, a tanner of Lacock, and one of Thomas’s principal creditors, to proceed to the courts for the letters of administration. Being left with five children, the eldest, John only thirteen years old, she had no other option. However, it appears Alice remarried the following year; her husband was Francis Rogers, a widower, of Stanton St Bernard, and they married in Lacock. Surprisingly I can find no more evidence about the couple after this date, although I assume they stayed in Lacock, as both Alice’s children with Thomas Street, Susannah and Thomas, were married there in 1810 and 1812 respectively.

The three children of Thomas and Sarah Hawkes however, moved at some point, to Tetbury, Sarah’s home town. Whereas there are records for John and Jane, both marrying in Tetbury, there is nothing positive on William. He is probably the William Street who was buried in the churchyard of St Marys, Tetbury on June 1,1813, aged 33. On April 26 1798, Jane Street married Samuel Pitt at the church of St Mary the Virgin, Tetbury. A son, William was born in July. As with so much in the Street family, I can find no trace of Samuel, Jane and William Pitt thereafter. Samuel and Jane were married by licence, and the guarantors of the bond were Jane’s brother, John, described as a shoemaker of Tetbury, and her uncle, Thomas Hawkes (brother of her mother, Sarah), a currier of Tetbury. A year after Jane’s wedding, her elder brother, John was married, in the same church, to Sarah Cave, the marriage referred to in the opening paragraph above. On this occasion the witness to the marriage licence allegation, and to the ceremony itself was Thomas Cave, Sarah’s brother, who swore an oath that Sarah’s father, John, gave his consent to the marriage as Sarah was a few weeks short of her 21st birthday. 

The marriage of John and Sarah was to last a little over nine years, until Sarah’s untimely death, probably as a result of the birth of their final child, also called Sarah. Baby Sarah was born in August 1808 and died in October – Sarah the mother passed away in September. In the space of those nine years the couple had eight children (if you include my ancestor, George), and all, apart from little Sarah, survived into adulthood. Life cannot have been easy for the family; in his will, proved in 1813, Sarah’s father, John Cave directed his executors to release John Street (and also his own son, John Cave) from all the debts ‘of whatever kind’ owed to him which represented ‘sums of money to a very considerable amount’. No doubt, following his father-in-laws death, John struggled to support his family by his occupation alone. The records of the Overseers of the Poor in Tetbury record payments to John of 4/- (four shillings) a week between October 1811 and May 1813. With no obvious support from the Cave family things must have even more desperate. In the middle part of 1814 the Overseers recorded paying a Mrs Browning £3 for bread for the Street family, covering 15 weeks. Previously John had himself been paying poor rates, from 1802 until 1812 at least, as the occupier of half of the Jolly Butchers inn in Tetbury, A later document records that John was an innkeeper as well as a shoemaker, so he may have been the proprietor of the Jolly Butchers. He is shown as paying rates again in the early 1820s, at a different address, so life for the family must have been a series of lows and (not very) highs. Some of his children may have been apprenticed, although no record survives of this, but by the 1820s, several must have been supporting themselves; I shall look at their lives a little later.

Jolly Butchers, Tetbury in 1900

The Jolly Butchers in Tetbury

In October 1826 John married for the second time, at St Giles, Uley. He was now 50 years of age and his bride, Deborah Baglin was about 38. Although both are given as ‘of this parish’ this was often a convenience used to satisfy the requirements of calling banns. There is no evidence John did move there, and he is certainly back in Tetbury in 1841. There is a real mystery concerning Deborah – I can find no record of a baptism for her around the date her age in censuses and her death suggest. There is, however, a record of a birth and christening at a nonconformist chapel in Uley; it gives the date of her birth as April 26, 1807, which would make her only 19 at the time of her marriage. I would normally dismiss this, but a witness at the marriage was Elizabeth Baglin and the christening record shows an older sister of Deborah, named Elizabeth, being baptised the same day. But why would anyone add 20 years to their age? It must be added that Baglin was a fairly common name in Uley. John and Deborah were to have two children, Ann in 1828 and Samuel in 1831. The family appear on the 1841 census, living in Bull Court, Tetbury, which was off Silver Street. Following John’s death in 1850, Deborah was still living there in the 1851 Census, with her son, Samuel. Deborah died in 1857. Of the two children of John and Deborah, Ann (1828-1900) married William Slade, a Tetbury carpenter, and they moved to Bristol around 1854, living at first in St James parish (close to George Street, my ancestor), and then St Michaels. Samuel (1831-1903) remained in Tetbury most of his life, although he married in Tredegar, Monmouthshire in 1870. His bride was the wonderfully named Susanna Anne Sealy Salt and they settled in Church Street, Tetbury and raised their family there. Samuel appears in most censuses as a shoemaker, like his father, although on one occasion he is described as a draper.

To return to the children of John Street and Sarah Cave, they lived widely differing lives. The eldest, Thomas (1800-1834) was a butcher in Tetbury and seems to have prospered for a while. In 1824 he married Mary Stockham from Lea in Wiltshire. Surprisingly the marriage took place at St James church in Bristol, and the witnesses were my ancestor, George Street (whom I take to be Thomas’ brother) and his new wife, Elizabeth (see below). They had married in Bristol shortly before and lived all their lives thereafter in St James. Thomas and Mary had four children, Sarah Cave, William, George and Jane before Thomas’ sudden death on May 7 1834. He had made a will two weeks earlier and left several properties to be sold and the residue invested in Government Stocks to provide an income for his family. Mary lived on until 1881, although in 1840 she had a fifth child, Ellen, father unknown, who only lived for seven months. Thomas was the only one of the siblings to remain in Tetbury all his life.

The second son, John Street (1801-1892) was a tailor and moved at first to Wiltshire, where he married Elizabeth Hill in 1831. They had four children before Elizabeth’s death in 1848. The family then  lived in Clack, Lyneham, Wiltshire, but it appears they moved to Bristol between 1851 and 1860. John is shown on censuses as living with his daughters and their families in 1871,1881 and 1891 and he died 1892. The eldest daughter, Hannah (1802-1882) also moved away from Tetbury, and in 1838 she married Joseph Hayward at St Georges, Hanover Square, London. The 1841 census shows the couple living at Eccleston Square, Pimlico, but maddingly doesn’t give Joseph’s occupation. However, they too moved to Wiltshire, and the 1851 census shows Joseph as a farmer of 88 acres, and the couple are living in the village of Little Somerford, near Malmesbury with their two daughters, Mary Jane and Ellen, both born in Pimlico. Joseph had been born in the nearby village of Brinkworth. They are still there in 1861 and Joseph’s holding has now grown to 222 acres. Joseph died in February 1870, and the next census in 1871 shows Hannah living in nearby Somerford Parva (also Great Somerford) as an annuitant. Ten years later she is living with her daughter, Mary Jane Vines, in Little Somerford, whose husband appears to be farming the same area as Joseph – perhaps the farm passed on to them. The following year, in August 1882, Hannah died and was buried in the churchyard of St John, Little Somerford, no doubt with her husband.

William Street (1803-1890) was a saddler and harness-maker, and he travelled the furthest away of all the family. His life is the best documented of the family, and is fully described in Tetbury to Stroud by Marguerita Carey (published privately), from which I have extracted the following. He was apprenticed to a harness-maker in Tetbury, and after completing his apprenticeship, moved to Swindon, then a large market town. He was employed by a Mr Costar, before applying to become an indentured servant of the Australian Agricultural Company, signing the agreement in April 1827. Whilst in Swindon he met Elizabeth Peart, a local girl and they became engaged. In May 1827 he married Elizabeth at the church of All Souls in Marylebone, London (next to the much later Broadcasting House of the BBC) and the following month the couple departed England forever, on board the ‘Marquis of Angelsey’, bound for Australia. William was employed as a harness-maker by the Australian Agricultural Company, initially at their establishment at Carrington, New South Wales, his initial pay being £30 per annum. He later moved with his family to the Company’s site at Stroud, NSW and evidently prospered there. The brick house he bought from the Company in 1859, for £320, is still standing. William and Elizabeth raised a large family and many of their descendants contributed essential information and photographs to Marguerita’s book. William died in June 1890.

I believe the next in the family was my forebear George Street (1805-1868) and I shall return to him later. Philip Cave Street (1806-1847) was living in Bristol by 1837, when he married Mary Davis at St John-on-the-wall. The 1841 census finds Philip and Mary living in Duck Lane, a narrow lane leading from Nelson Street to the bottom of the Pithay; with them is their three-year-old daughter, also Mary. Philip’s occupation was that of ‘hostler’, or ostler, which is a person who looked after customers’ horses at an inn or hotel. The year after Mary, Philip’s wife, died; she is probably the Mary Street buried at St James on September 11th. Her abode is given as Cannon Street, which means the family  were living in the same road as George Street my ancestor. Philip married again just six months later; it was normal at this time for widowed fathers with small children to remarry quickly. His new bride may also provide a link to George. She was Jane Lee, a widow twice over, whose maiden name was Jane Francis. Jane was born in Abergwili, a small village just outside Carmarthen in Wales, but her two previous marriages had been in Bristol. The marriage certificate gives Jane’s father as Evan Francis, which is confirmed by her baptism record, and in the 1841 census, the next-door neighbour of George Street, in Cannon Street, is Evan Francis, born in Carmarthenshire, whom I take to be Jane’s brother. Jane was to be widowed for a third time when Philip died, probably around New Year 1848. He was buried on January 2nd in the churchyard of St James. In 1851 his daughter, Mary was in an orphanage at Ashley Down, in Bristol and Jane was living-in as a nurse at the Bristol Royal Infirmary, but I cannot trace either of them thereafter.

Robert Street (1807-1852) was the youngest surviving member of the family. He seems to have been a butcher like his elder brother, Thomas, at first. In 1826 he served a three month sentence in Horsley prison, being found guilty of stealing apples from an orchard in Tetbury. Perhaps this was the reason he moved away, as most of his siblings had done. Robert next appears in Northamptonshire, where, in 1834 he married Elizabeth Tuckey in Brackley. His occupation then was ‘road surveyor’, which is interesting because his maternal uncle, George Cave was also a road surveyor and lived at the time in  Bodicote, Oxfordshire, just a short distance away from Brackley. Did George take Robert under his wing perhaps and teach him his trade? In 1851 there was another change of occupation; the census of that year show the couple living at The Locomotive Inn, Bridge Street, Brackley and Robert is decscribed as a ‘licensed victualler and farmer’ with 20 acres. Perhaps Robert never settled to anything for long. He died the following year, aged just 45 and was buried in Brackley churchyard. Robert and Elizabeth appear not to have had any children.

Hannah Street (August-October 1808).

St James c1800

St James, Bristol

Cannon Street

Cannon Street with St James in the background

George Street (c1805-1868) always gave his place-of-birth on censuses as Tetbury; he is usually described as a slipper maker and appears to have lived in Cannon Street, just behind the church of St James in Bristol, from at least 1841 until his death. He married Elizabeth Rousom, a native of Dublin at St Philip and St Jacobs church in Bristol on January 28th 1824 when he was about 19; Elizabeth was a year or so older. Their children were all baptised into the Roman Catholic faith at the chapel of St Joseph in Trenchard Street, although, with one exception, they all  married either in Anglican churches or at the Register Office. George died in 1868 and Elizabeth three years later. Their eldest son, also George (1828-1886) was also a slipper maker and lived mostly in St James parish, only moving to Cherry Alley in neighbouring St Pauls in the 1870s. He married Martha Ann Waters, née Gillard at Bristol Register Office in April 1863 and they had seven children, of whom the second, Ada was my great grandmother. 

Elizabeth and Ada Street

Ada Street (seated with my mother on her lap) and her elder sister, Elizabeth Street (standing) 1922

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.

Chew Magna to Hollywood!



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.


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. 


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


To the right wrll

John Trevelyan

Esqr at Nettlecombe

these d [eliver]


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 


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