Industrial Archaeology

Stoke Lane Sept 2011 001 copy

St Michaels Church, Stoke Lane before 19th century rebuilding

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

3 Temple Gate, Bath Parade

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

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

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

Murtry Mill 1888 OS

Murtry Flour Mill on an 1881 OS map

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

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

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

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

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

Stoke Lane 1760 detail copy

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

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

Finch Foundry

Finch Foundry

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

Stoke Lane Sept 2011 Mill wall

In Clavey’s Wood showing wall of mill

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

Stoke Lane Sept 2011 mill leat

Clavey’s mill showing the mill leat and sluice gate


Living at the Edge

Uley Church c1830 copy

St Giles, Uley c1830

I have previously mentioned my ancestor George Mitchell/Witchell and his antecedents (here), and his granddaughter, Mary Ann has also appeared as the wife of William Gibbs (here). This article aims to fill in as many gaps as possible. George Mitchell and his family have, without doubt, been the most difficult of all my lines to research. Like the Gibbs family whom they married into, they moved between Bristol and Bath, finally ending up in Bristol, and with several marriage irregularities and some missing records, they are often hard to pin down. George’s use of both Mitchell and Witchell also causes problems in the early period but most of the records concerning the family in the nineteenth century use Mitchell so I shall continue with that.

George was a tailor, born in Wotton-under-Edge in 1794, and who married Harriet Moore at Uley in 1816. Their first child, Elizabeth was baptised at Uley in the following year. Thereafter I can find no record of any other baptisms for the couple, who had eight children, with the exception of a final son, Walter who was baptised at Bath Abbey on July 1st 1836. The father’s address was given as Ladymead, now part of Walcot Street. Five years later in the 1841 Census the Mitchells are to be found at Galloways Buildings (later North Parade Buildings) just to the south of the Abbey. George’s occupation is still given as tailor (as he is in all records) but Harriet is not with the family. It may that she had died, but I have not found a record of any death or burial. Living with George are Sarah (20) William (15) George (12) Emma (8) Richard (6) and Walter (4). I have not been able to find any further trace of the two girls and although Walter is living near his father in 1851, he disappers thereafter. Also missing are Elizabeth and the eldest son, Henry. The latter in the Census’ from 1851 on gives his place of birth as either Uley or Wotton, and on his marriage certificate names George Mitchell, a tailor, as his father.

Henry, being my ancestor, is my main concern and I shall return to him later. Of his four brothers, there are again, gaps in any records that I can find. William and Richard were both french polishers (as was Henry) and both moved to Fulham in London, although Richard returned to the West Country and was living in Weston Super Mare in 1891. William was living at the interesting address (at least for football lovers) of 1 Craven Cottages, Fulham in 1881 before moving to Hammersmith. George (who gives his place of birth as Wotton under Edge, rather than Bath like his elder brother, William) was a warehouseman and lived in Bristol, at least until 1861 after which he disappears. All three of the brothers married but it seems only William had a child – Rosina Martha, who was born in 1848.

1841 Hannah Dix copy

The Dix family in 1841

It was with some difficulty that I finally found Henry Mitchell in the 1841 Census. Although impossible to prove, I am sure he is the “Henery” listed as living at Snow Hill, Walcot. The household consisted of Elizabeth aged 50, Hanah (20), Thomas (11), Rosena (1) and “Henery” also aged 20. The surname is spelt Dixs by the enumerator and after Elizabeth, just the abbreviation “Do” for ditto is given. Of course, in the 1841 census no relationships are shown, but it is strange that, were Henry part of the Dix family he is not shown in age order as was the rule, but is added at the end. I think the enumerator may have assumed he was a Dix. The birth certificate of little Rosina proves, I think, my assumption. It shows that Rosina was born on September 5th, 1839 at Upper Dover Street (a turning off Snow Hill) and is the daughter of Henry Mitchell, a french polisher, and Hannah Dix. A second daughter, Mary Ann was born in March 1842 by which time the family had moved to Claremont Buildings, also in Walcot. The details of parentage are the same as on Rosina’s certificate. In September of that year banns were called at St Saviours Church, Bath for the marriage of Henry and Hannah, but no wedding seems to have taken place; there is no entry in the register nor a certificate issued. Henry and Hannah were at a different Walcot address again in 1844 when their eldest son, Henry was born, and the mother still given as Hannah Dix. Thereafter, starting with the birth of a second son, George Dix Mitchell in Bristol in 1847, Hannah appears as Hannah Mitchell on her childrens’ birth certificates, and also on the 1851 Census.

Pope's Parade 1906

Popes Parade in relation to Merchant Street

The Mitchell family had moved to Bristol at some point in 1846/7 and their address there was Pope’s Parade which was a short terrace of five houses in the lane connecting Merchant Street and Quakers Friars. It is now a pedestrian way into the recently developed Cabot Circus shopping area, although the old houses have since disappeared. Rosina Mitchell had died in Bath in May 1846, aged 8 with her abode given as “Workhouse” but this could mean she died in the Workhouse Infirmary, which was the only source of health care for the poorer classes; but it does raise the possibility that the family had fallen on hard times. Their son, George Dix Mitchell, born in Pope’s Parade died within a year but a third daughter, Miranda, was born there in 1849. She proved to be the longest living family member, not dying until 1923. The living conditions in Pope’s Parade must have been cramped. From a map of the later 19th century, the houses do not appear very large and yet they were home to multiple households – five at No1 where the Mitchells were lodging – a total of sixteen people. No 4 was even more crowded with twenty-one inhabitants. In the same rank, lodging at Nos 5 and 3 respectively were Henry’s father George and younger brother, Walter who was described as an errand boy, aged 17, though his true age was 14.

By 1855 the Mitchells had returned to Bath. Hannah gave birth to another daughter, Jeanette in that year and three years later a fourth daughter, Jessie arrived. Jessie only lived for a few months, yet in early 1859 a final child, Hannah Harriet was born; she too died within two months and her mother Hannah followed her to the grave in December of that year. The cause of Hannah’s death is stated on the certificate as Phthisis, the medical term for Tuberculosis; she had been suffering from it for nine months and died at the age of 42.

The 1861 Census finds Henry Mitchell and his three surviving children back in Bristol, living at 11 Water Street, St Pauls. Little Jeanette had died shortly before the Census was taken, so only Mary Ann, Henry and Miranda (whose name obviously caused problems for the enumerator – he wrote “Emma”) were in the household. The house was shared (as we have seen here) with Ellen Cornwall, her son John and three lodgers, among whom was William Gibbs, the future husband of Mary Ann, whom he was to marry later in the year. By then Henry had moved to adjoining Milk Street, which he gave as his address on the occasion of his own marriage to Louisa Jane Bult. The two witnesses at the marriage were George and Elizabeth Mitchell. The former could be Henry’s father, but I am more inclined to think it was his brother. George Mitchell junior had married Elizabeth Watson in 1848 and they appear in the 1851 and 1861 Censuses living in the St Pauls area, although I cannot find them afterwards. They do not seem to have any children.

Frogmore Street area

The area to the north of Frogmore Street (at bottom) showing Hope Place and Jessamine Cottages ( aka Dennis Place)

In 1861 George senior was living in Hope Place, near Frogmore Street, in the parish of St Augustines, and at some time around 1869 Henry moved his family to the same area, being listed at Dennis Place in the 1871 Census. The area to the north of Frogmore Street, rising up the hill to Park Row had a very unsavoury reputation in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, and again it probably indicates the level of poverty in which the Mitchell family appears to have subsisted. The children of Henry and Hannah had all moved away from home by this time. Henry junior, a french polisher like his father married Ann Gilham in 1866, and Miranda (this time spelt Mineda) was a live-in waitress at the Adam & Eve Tavern in St Mary-le-Port Street; she was to marry William Lloyd in 1878. It seems as if Henry and Louisa had moved to Burnham on Sea (Louisa’s birthplace) around 1867/8 as one of their children, Margaret Emma had been born there, but by the time the next child was born in 1870 they were settled in St Augustines. In all Henry and Louisa had six children, the two youngest dying in early childhood.

Returning to George Mitchell senior in 1861, his household as recorded in the Census consists of himself aged 66, a tailor, his wife Belinda aged 33, born in Ireland and a daughter, Hellen aged 5 and born in St Pauls, Bristol. I have been unable to find a marriage or the birth of Hellen, who may not of course, have been registered as Mitchell. There is a Belinda Coffy, born in Ireland about the correct age, living as a servant in a household in Clifton in 1851, and this may be her, but I cannot find a birth for a daughter named Coffy either. To confuse matters further the 1871 Census shows George living with a wife, Ellen (born in Cashel, Ireland) aged 49, and no sign of a daughter. I’m inclined to believe that Belinda/Ellen are one and the same, perhaps giving a false age in 1861 and deciding to change names; but we shall never know. George died in August 1871 of “Old age and Dropsy” and the informant was wife “Hellena” Mitchell. The confusion continues in the later Censuses – in 1881 Ellen Mitchell, widow is living with a daughter Ellen (unmarried), and two grandchildren, Florence (5) and Edward (3); in 1891 Helen Mitchell, widow is with daughter Helen (widow) and granddaughter Lily (9). I can find all three grandchildren in the birth index (Florence and Edward both have a second name, Horrell, perhaps pointing to parentage) but they all appear to be illegitimate.

Henry Mitchell continued living at Dennis Place (also called Jessamine Cottages – a row of four small houses on Stoney Hill) until his death in January 1885. The cause of his death is given as “Fatty degeneration of the liver”, which was possibly caused by the inhalation of methylated spirits used in french polishing, but may also be a symptom of alcoholism or diabetes. One other late record is his signature as a witness on the will drawn up by his son-in-law, William Lloyd, the husband of Miranda in 1883. I have not seen this, but someone who has assures me that the signature plainly appears as “Witchell” so perhaps we have come full circle.

Frogmore Street

Frogmore Street

A Voice from the Past


Will John Godfrey 1616 original mark

The mark of John Godfrey from his will of 1616

In a previous article (here) I made the arguement that my ancestor, William Godfrey alias Smith was the son of the John Godfrey of Hailey who died in 1782. That remains to be proved, but I decided to chart the line of the Godfrey family, with the help of a fellow researcher whose forebear had married into the Godfrey family in the late seventeenth century. The descent, as it appears most likely is as follows:

William Godfrey alias Smith (1757-1821)
John Godfrey (1707-1782) (here)
Daniel Godfrey (1665-1737) (here)
John Godfrey (1634-1705) (here)
John Godfrey (1596-1670) (here)
John Godfrey died 1616 (here)

The wills for all of these (except William) survive and help to prove the connections and relationships, as well as their occupations (to see transcriptions of them, click on the “here” after each one). All of them, with the exception of the two earliest Johns, describe themselves as husbandmen or yeomen; the second John was a cooper and the first a sivier, that is one who made sieves. My fellow researcher brought to my attention a mention in the Survey of London (available in British History Online) regarding the church of All Hallows Barking (otherwise All Hallows by the Tower); this referred to a letter held in the parish chest which was from a John Godfrey of Crawley in Oxfordshire to his sister Elizabeth Goddard who lived in Tower Street and dated 1615 ( the note is in section 3). My curiosity engaged, I visited the London Metropolitan Archive and photographed the letter. It is shown below together with my transcription.

It is impossible to say if this is the same John Godfrey as the one who died in 1616, but there appear to be no others of this name in the parish, and some of the names in the letter, such as Amy and Joan were used by him for his own children. In any case the letter is an interesting social history item and although, no doubt, couched in formulaic terms, shows the close relationship between John and his sister as well as the deep religious faith that obviously underpinned life in that period.

Godfrey letter full

London Metropolitan Archive ref P69/ALH1/G/04/001 letter no55

nb. Permission to use this image has been allowed by the London Metropolitan Archive on the understanding that copyright is held (until 2035) by the writer and his direct lineal descendant. If anyone should be able to prove to have the senior line of descent, I shall be pleased to acknowledge or withdraw the illustration as required. I would also be very pleased to make contact with another possible distant cousin!

Transcription of the letter of John Godfrey 1615

Jesus Christ

Most loving and kinde sister Elizabeth I and my weife
wth the rest of us comend us right harttely unto you
geving you harty thankes for yor great & extraordinary
Tokens to us sent not knowing how to requite it not any
other wayes but wth thankfull hartes, and and evrmore
dayly prayers to god for yor good and happy beeing
in this triblesome worlde [to blese yo wth] and evrlasting ioyes in the
world to come Amen. Theise are to let you
understand that I receivd yor letter and tokens
for our selves and yor sister Joane geving you harty
thanks for yor often kindnesses And I have here
sent you for a smale Token a Cake for you and yor
frend to tast of this Alhallen day wch is now at this
date well near come praying to except of it as though
it were a greter Token –

And I thanke god be it spoken at this tyme
wth yor gret chardges and wth my owne laboure
that god hath blessed mee wth I can now bid you
welcome or any frend I have to my owne house
wch is in Witny parish about half a myle where
I dwelt before at a vilage cauled Crawly
This sertyfying you of all or good healthes: hoping also
of yors I end wth A Thousand comendacons comitting
you unto the lords blessed proteccon Crawly the
xxix of October And. 1615
yor loving Brother &
Sister Joh Godfre &
Ame his wiefe

The Carier ys paide


To his very loving sister
Elizabeth Goddard at
the lower end of Tower
street against Barking
Church theise bee
delivred wth speed
The carrier is paide


There are many interesting points to be found in the letter. First of all the speed with which John expected it to be delivered; he has noted on the cover that it is to be “delivered wth speed” (a 17th century first class post no doubt) but All Hallows day, when he was expecting Elizabeth to “tast of” the cake he sent, was on November 1st, so just three days after the letter was written.

If this is John Godfrey the sivier, it is interesting that he has managed to acquire his own house, presumably having previously only rented a property. He declares that it has been obtained with his “owne laboure”, although possibly also by Elizabeth’s “gret chardges” – it is not clear what this means, but I feel it most likely that the charges referred to were urgings by his sister that he take this step. Sadly, assuming the two John Godfreys to be one and the same, the following year was to see the death of both John and his wife, Amy. John’s will, dated August 29th 1616 leaves £3 and a sheep each to his five daughters, Margaret, Marjorie, Joan, Alice and Amy with the remainder of his estate going to his son, John. Probate was granted on September 28th, so John must have died within a few weeks of drawing up his will. There is no mention made of wife Amy in the will, so it must be presumed she died earlier in the year, or in late 1615. Unfortunately the parish register of Witney is missing burials for this period, so we can’t be sure of the date of her death.

I think the letter is not in John’s own handwriting, but dictated. The use on the cover (in the same hand) of “to his very loving sister..” and the subscription of “yor loving brother..” sound second-hand rather than immediate. Furthermore, if we are to accept that the John of the letter and the John of the 1616 will are the same man, then we know from the latter that the testator made a mark rather than writing a signature. Indeed, if the two documents are compared, there are enough similarities to assume they were written by the same person, and the will is most definitely dictated. Although both contain inconsistancies of spelling and letter formation, there are instancies where the writing is too identical to be ignored. Below I have shown the name John Godfrey from the will (referring to the testator’s son) and the subscription of the letter. The letter formation of the abbreviated “John” and the shape of the capital G are virtually identical. I suspect that both documents, written within a year of one another, were the work of a local scrivener or clergyman, or possibly a literate friend.

Will John Godfrey 1616 original name
Godfrey letter name

To my mind there is enough circumstantial evidence to treat the maker of the will and the writer of the letter as being the same man. If so, it is extrememly satisfying for a family historian to hear the voice of one of his ancestors speak from the long distant past. I have discovered another letter from a certain ancestor, dated 1619, but, although autographed, it remains a fairly standardised plea for advancement. This letter of John Godfrey is a much more personal and, to my mind, a more interesting document.

One final item of interest is the cake which John has sent to Elizabeth. This was, no doubt, an All Hallows or Soul cake, which played a prominent part in the festival of both the day itself and the Eve on October 31st. Most surviving records make it sound to modern ears more like a biscuit or cookie (a recipe is shown below) and it played a part in the medieval and early modern version of “trick or treat” which we associate with Halloween. Children and poorer members of the community would go from door to door “souling”, offering to pray for the souls of the household’s departed, and in return were given a soul cake; the cakes were usually decorated with a cross on top (like hot-cross buns) which were supposed to stand for either the cross of Christ which would redeem the souls in Purgatory, or alternatively bones representing the dead.

All Hallows cake recipe (makes 12)

375g self raising flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp mixed spice
185g butter
155g caster sugar
90g currants
90g sultanas
1 egg
125ml milk

Mix the dry ingredients into a bowl and rub in the butter
Add the fruit and spices and mix; make a well in the centre and add the egg and milk
Mix well together and using a spoon, arrange on a greased baking tray, making a cross on the top
Bake in preheated oven (220C/Gas 7) for 10-15 minutes until golden

Next Halloween I shall make some All Hallows cakes and remember my (probable) ancestors, John and Amy Godfey of Crawley, and perhaps offer up an (atheist’s) prayer for their souls.





Farrington Gurney Manor 1

Farrington Gurney Manor House

There has been a great deal of media talk in recent months regarding the career and prospects of the Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg and this has acquired the label of “Moggmentum”. Not wishing to prejudice the future I can at least look to the past and offer a few insights into the joint history that he and I share. For Jacob (if I may call him that) is my twelfth cousin once removed. We share, as an ancestor, Richard Mogg who died in 1641; Richard was an important man in North Somerset during his career. He served as Bailiff of the Duchy of Cornwall for its estates in the area and leased from the Duchy the manors of Farrington Gurney and Welton in both of which villages he built imposing manor houses. The one at Farrington is especially grand and bears the initials of Richard, and Elizabeth his wife, on a carving over the main fireplace. The same monogram exists on the exterior of the porch together with the date 1637 which probably means that the house was habitable just prior to Richard’s death, although it was only completed in 1645.

Fireplace initials

The initials of Richard and Elizabeth Mogg

I shall mention Richard’s origins a little later on; W.J. Robinson in “West Country Manors” (1930) states that Richard was a descendant of the de Gournay family who held the manor in the Middle Ages and gave their name to the village, but I can find no evidence for this. He first appears in the area around 1600 when his daughter (possibly the eldest), Mary was baptised at St Mary Magdalene, Chewton Mendip. A further eight children followed, ending with Walter in 1619, and it appears all but one of them survived into adulthood. Of his wife Elizabeth, we know little. Richard’s will refers to her brother Richard Fetherston, so we have her surname, but little else; I have not yet been able to trace their marriage.

In 2004 an article by Keith Trivett appeared in the Somerset Coalfield Journal “Five Arches” which gives the history of the Mogg and Rees-Mogg family and it quite rightly links Richard to a family in South Somerset which bore the name of “Keene alias Mogg” in various forms. Aliases were fairly common at this period and do not have any pejorative connotations; they are often the result of an inheritance or a second marriage. The village where the Moggs originated was Shepton Montague, and the Victoria County History records that one half of the manor was conveyed in 1570 by Charles the younger son of Lord Zouche to William Mogg alias Kyne; this half was known as Stoney Stoke or Stoke Holloway. On William’s death in 1597 it passed to his son, John. This latter individual is presumably the “John Mogge alias Kyne” who is named in a lease of 1583 granting further land in Shepton Montague named “Cattall Lande and Penhill” and which ran to approximately 200 acres. The annual rent was three shillings and fourpence, but John had also paid a “competente some of money” which is not stipulated. Named as “lives” in the lease are John’s three sons, William, Richard and John, all bearing the same alias.

John Keene alias Mogge mark 1596

The mark of John Mogg alias Keene

It is unfortunate that the parish register of Shepton Montague is in poor condition and is only available through a modern transcription for the period of the late 16th and early 17th centuries. This does record a marriage in 1562 between William Keene and a Margaret whose surname, the transcriber suggests, could be Mogge. This may well be the origin of the alias. The register also records baptisms but does not give the name of the father, which is fairly unusual. There is a Richard Mogge baptised on November 16, 1569 and again it is fair to surmise that this may the Richard who later moved to Chewton and Farrington Gurney. A later lease of 1605 involving more land in the parish names John Keene alias Mogge the elder, his wife Katherine, daughter Joane and grandson John, so it appears one son at least stayed in the area; the elder John died in 1606 and his son John in 1620. Thereafter the family are often referred to as simply Keene. A further pointer to the connection between the Shepton Montague family and that of Richard Mogg of Chewton/Farrington is provided by heraldic devices (three crescents) used by both. There are other sources which quote Duchy of Cornwall archives and maintain that Richard was the son of John Keene alias Mogg who died in 1606. It may well be that John had connections to the Duchy which were continued by his son, Richard.

Reconstructed Mogge family

Tentative reconstruction of the Mogg alias Keene family of Shepton Montague

Although Richard Mogg obviously travelled in the interests of the Duchy (in a letter of November 1618 he records that he is in London on “my now Master’s business”), he remained a yeoman farmer for some time. He is also recorded as the first of the family to obtain a grant to dig for coal in Farrington Gurney, establishing a link with the mining industry that was to last down the generations of the Mogg and Rees-Mogg family. In 1608 Richard, described as “of Chewtone….yeoman” acquired a tenement and land in Bruton. In the lease, the term is on the lives of Richard’s daughters, “Fraunce Grace and Anne Mogge”. A further complicated land transaction took place in 1617 and two of the parties involved were Richard Mogg of Chewton, gentleman and William Mogg of Shepton, yeoman. So Richard had certainly risen in the world; the William Mogg may be his brother or nephew. The article by Keith Trivett mantioned above also records that Richard was fined £10 for refusing, as a Catholic, to attend the coronation of Charles I in 1610. I’m not sure where this information came from, but Charles was crowned in 1625, and I have seen no further evidence that Richard was a Catholic. I should point out that the article in question does have many inaccuracies, getting the dates of Richard’s childrens’ births wrong and confusing his brother John with his son John.

Mogg memorial tablet at Farrington Gurney church

Memorial tablet in St Johns, Farrington Gurney

Richard died on October 9th 1641 and was buried in the church of St John the Baptist, Farrington Gurney. A memorial, presumably erected by his son, John records the date his death and that of Elizabeth his wife, but the parish register of Farrington is missing for this period so the date of burial is unknown. Richard’s will, made in April 1641 (with a supplementary note added in Richard’s own hand in July) was witnessed in August of that year, and probate granted to his executor on November 30th. It provides a good deal of interest as to his relationships with his family.

He provides numerous bequests of cash and personal effects for his grandchildren, reserving the major items for the two daughters of his eldest son, Richard. Of his property, one part of an estate in Farrington is left to his youngest son, Jacob and Jacob’s son, another Richard. The major holding in Welton is bequeathed to Richard the eldest son, with a charge on it to pay annuities to his mother Elizabeth, and sister Mary Vaughan, who appears not to have any children. The remainder of the estate was also left to Richard who was appointed the executor. So far so normal, but the legacy for Richard’s middle son, John is barbed. It reads as follows:

I give unto my sonne John Mogg one peece of gold of twentie
shillinges which gold I appointe by this my will to have a ring made of with a deaths
head thereon, by my Executor to bee done; and by him delivered unto him, that wearinge the same the sight thereof may burne his hearte for covetinge goods as hitherto hee hath done;

Father and son obviously did not have a trouble-free relationship.

Signature and seal of Richard Mogg 1617

Signature and seal of Richard Mogg

This is where my family history and that of Jacob Rees-Mogg part company. My ancestor was Grace, the third daughter of Richard Mogg, who married Francis Board of Chewton Mendip around 1623/4. Their children were to share a bequest in Richard’s will of £20 to share between them, and the three youngest were to receive a calf each. The family remained in Chewton, occupying the same land and house at Bathway for another 150 years (see here). Jacob Rees-Mogg is descended from the black sheep, John. His elder brother died in the 1650s (possibly his is the administration granted in 1653), and it seems the estate in Welton passed to his daughters and sons-in-law – the eldest Elizabeth married into the Champneys family of Orchardleigh, whereas the manors and much else went to his brother John, who in the end inherited the bulk of his father’s estates, and whose line continues down to this day.



More detail may be found in future when the archives of the Duchy of Cornwall are examined.

Document images courtesy of the Somerset Heritage Centre


The Flexneys, an Oxfordshire Diaspora

Holy Trinity. WoodGreen Witney crop

Holy Trinity Church, Woodgreen, Witney

Flexney is an Oxfordshire surname with a long history, the earliest usages appearing in the thirteenth century. It also has a distinguished record, the family providing the city of Oxford with two mayors and several other officials, but by the start of the nineteenth century it had all but died out in the county. In the 1851 Census there were just five households, all of them living in Witney and all descended (with one possible exception) from Richard Flexney (1756-1803) a blanket weaver. Twenty years later not a single bearer of the surname remained in Witney and only one family, who had moved into Oxford in 1851, lived in the county. No doubt much of this was occasioned by employment factors and the availability of easy rail transport to areas where jobs were more plentiful.

St Mary Witney [10]

St Mary’s Witney

The one family whose origins are obscure were Edward and Eliza Flexney. I can find no record of Edward’a baptism (around 1813) and nothing before his marriage to Eliza Godfrey at St Mary’s, Witney on 9th July 1831 which gives any clue. He may be connected to the other Flexney families in the town, but we can’t be sure. Edward was a Woolen Spinner, no doubt working in one of the many textile factories that had developed in Witney with the gradual industrialization of the blanket making trade. The family moved to Yorkshire at some time in the 1850s, possibly to find work in the rapidly expanding textile industry there, for Edward still gives his occupation as Woolen Spinner in the 1861 Census. Edward had died by the time of the Census ten years later, but his sons, Charles (a Cabinet Maker) and Frederick (a Stationary Engine Mechanic) both married and had families of their own. In all probablitity any Flexney alive in Britain today is descended from either this Yorkshire branch or the London branch (see below).

Returning to Witney in 1851, there were two branches of the Flexneys which were headed by a son of Richard (1756-1803), a blanketweaver. The eldest son, another Richard was a maltster and lived with his wife, Mary (nee Fords) in Swingburn Row, off Corn Street. Their only child, John was an agricultural labourer and lived at 47 High Street with his wife, Eliza (nee Austin) and their two daughters, Marlin and Mary Ann. John had joined the Royal Marines in Portsmouth in 1836, and was discharged in 1845, listed as “Branded”, presumably with “D” for deserter. In 1861, with his parents and wife having all died, John was left with four children at home – a son Edward had been born in 1852/3 and a daughter Alice in 1857. The family have been difficult to trace after this, but Edward may have been in the army before he reappears as a chimney sweep in the 1891 Census. Ten years further on he has a wife, Elizabeth and three children who were all born in Pusey, Wiltshire. I have not been able to trace them in 1911.

The younger brother of Richard Flexney the maltster, was another Edward (1795-1853) who was also a Woolen Spinner. He was my ancestor and the bulk of my research has naturally been into his family. It is remarkable that for three generations his forbears were involved in the blanket industry and yet none of his ten children, who all survived into adulthood, worked in it. In fact, with one exception, they had all left Witney by 1861 and eight of them moved outside Oxfordshire completely. Between them they exhibit all the characteristics and contradictions of the Regency, Victorian and Edwardian ages which their adult lives so neatly spanned, the eldest, Thomas being born in 1816 and Selina, the longest lived, dying in 1918. Edward had married Mary Godfrey, the illegitimate daughter of Marlin Godfrey, in 1815. He is living in Corn Street in 1841 and had moved to Wood Green by the time of the 1851 Census. He died there in 1853 and was buried in the churchyard of All Saints, Wood Green, which had just been completed.

I will treat each of his children in order and examine the themes that run through so many of their lives; musical ability and a slightly cavalier approach to marriage.


Thomas Flexney 1816-1872

The eldest son, Thomas was baptised at St Marys, Witney on January 28th 1816 and was one of the more conventional members of the family. He married Elizabeth Parmee from Curbridge, also at St Marys, on 18th April 1835, and by the time of the 1841 Census were three children in the household: Mary Ann (aged 5), Elizabeth (3) and Thomas (4 months). They were living on Corn Street, near Thomas’ parents and his occupation is “shoemaker”. He is variously described as “cordwainer” or “bootmaker” in later Censuses, but these are simple variations on the same occupation. By 1851 three more daughters are mentioned – Marlin, Emily and Mercy. The rather unusual name, Marlin, was a family one; it was the name of Thomas’ grandmother, Marlin Godfrey.

Oxford Prison

Oxford prison

On 7th August 1858 Thomas was appointed “Turnkey Trade Instructor” at the prison in Oxford. He had already been working there for the previous six weeks according to an announcement in Jackson’s Oxford Journal, and was to be paid one guinea and provided with a uniform. The necessary tools were also provided for him so that he could “engage in the duty of teaching shoemaking to eighteen convicted prisoners whose original period of imprisonment exceeded twelve months”. It was noted that Thomas, although having a different title from other warders, had to undertake the common duties of a prison warder “as occasion may require”. At the time of the appointment Thomas was still residing in Witney, but by 1861 Thomas and Elizabeth had moved to Oxford, and were living at Park End Place, St Thomas. Two final children are in evidence – Norah (born in 1851) and James Edward (1853). The family stayed in the western area of Oxford, with Thomas dying in 1872 and Elizabeth in 1885. Both their sons followed in their father’s footsteps, becoming shoemakers, and, although both married, neither seems to have had any children. On the death of James Edward in 1904, the surname was finally extinguished in Oxfordshire.

Mercy Flexney 1849 - 1891

Mercy Flexney 1849-1891


Marlin Flexney 1819-1896

West End Witney

Marlin was the eldest daughter of Edward and Mary and was named for her grandmother, Marlin Godfrey. Like Thomas she lived a fairly conventional life – perhaps the elder children were made more responsible by the necessity of their having to help with the upbringing of their siblings. By the time of the 1841 Census she too was married and living in Corn Street with her husband, Frederick Bridgman and daughter, Susan. They had been married at St Marys in 1838 and Frederick came from Charlbury, just north of Witney. His occupation is difficult to read, but it may be “bailer”, possibly working in the textile trade. In later Censuses he is “out door servant”, “general servant” and finally, “gardener”. Marlin always appears as a “dressmaker”. By 1851 they had moved to Bridge Street, and by 1861 to West End. They remained there until Marlin’s death in 1896. They had five further children after Susan – William (1842) Marlin (1845) Edward (1847) Frederick (1852) and John (1860). Frederick was a Railway Porter in 1871, living with his uncle John in Bristol. Marlin was the last Flexney to live in Witney.


Mary Ann Flexney 1823-1890

Mary Ann was born in 1823 and was still living with her parents in 1841 when the Census took place. Five years later she married John Woodcock, a widower who was then Parish Clerk and the Witney National School Master; he was sixteen years older than Mary Ann and his first wife, Fanny had died earlier in 1846, leaving John to bring up five children. It was a common occurrence for widowers (and widows) to remarry quite quickly when young children were involved and four of John’s children were under the age of ten. Within six months of their marriage they had a daughter, Mary Ann and another five children would follow in future years.

It has been impossible to find the family on the 1851 Census and we can only trace their movements by the birthplaces of the children. The second, Agnes Jane was born in Witney in 1850 and the others were all born in Bristol: Frederick Edward towards the end of 1852, Alfred (1855), Albert (1858) and finally Susannah in 1860. A presentation of a desk was made to John by the staff and pupils of St Mary Redcliffe National School at Christmas 1862, so this may suggest he had been there for ten years.

Redcliffe Parade

St Mary Redcliffe church and Redcliffe Parade – No 1 was the nearest to the church

So it seems they were the first of the family to move to Bristol, and by 1861 at least four of Mary Ann’s siblings and her mother had joined them, no doubt following the death of Edward Flexney in June 1853. Living in the same house as John and Mary Ann (1, Redcliffe Parade East) were her brothers, John and Daniel as well as her sister, Agnes. A few doors along, her mother Mary Flexney was a nurse in the household of Mary Passmore, and in Nelson Place, a row of smaller houses that backed on to Redcliffe Parade lived Mary Ann’s sister Selina.

Map Redcliffe Parade

Map of Redcliffe showing the church, Redcliffe Parade, Nelson Place and Guinea Street

As a National School teacher, John Woodcock was expected to move around the country. 1871 finds the family in Otterton, near Budleigh Salterton, in Devon, living in the School House. By the time John had retired, sometime before the 1881 Census, they had moved to Yorkshire, for in that year John appears as an Annuitant, living with Mary Ann and their daughter Susannah at 3 Edith Terrace, Symon Street, Sculcoates, near Hull. John died there in 1885 aged 78 and Mary Ann in 1890.


Edward Flexney 1825-1891

Edward is the first of the family to cause us some problems, especially in his early career. He is with his parents in Corn Street, Witney in 1841, but can’t be traced again until 1871 when he is living at 50 St Michael’s Hill, Bristol, along with four other families.

50 St Michaels Hill, Bristol (Yellow house with blue door) [2]

50 St Michaels’s Hill, the yellow house with a blue door

With him were his wife, Harriet, son Edward aged 22 and “daughter” Nelly, aged 5. Both men are described as musicians. In fact Nelly was Mary Eleanor, a niece, who was the daughter of his brother, Daniel (see below). She was at some stage taken in by Edward and Harriet and continued living with them until her marriage. Harriet Peake was born in Combe, near Woodstock in Oxfordshire and Edward and Harriet’s eldest child was Edward Harrington Flexney who was born in Salford and baptized at Manchester Cathedral on April 8th 1849. A daughter, Ellen was born in Witney in 1851 but died the following year when the family were living in James Street, Waterloo, London. However, it wasn’t until February 2nd 1853 that Edward and Harriet married, at St Nicholas, Liverpool. All the evidence points to them living in the north-west in the 1850/60s and it may be that their entries in the 1851 and 1861 Census’ were lost when much of the Manchester area data was destroyed. They appear to have had no more children.

Although he seems to have been based in the north-west of England, Edward must have travelled a good deal in his musical career. We have two announcements for performances where he participated – both in Bristol (the lack of any other venues is probably accounted for by the range of nineteenth century newspapers online). In 1853 at Forresters Music Hall in Broadmead, Fred Hargest performed “The Belle of the Hunt” and “Sarah’s Dress Rehearsal” with a cast of vocalists and dancers, together with “Full Band” of which, “Mr E Flexney, cornet” is given as one of three individual artists. On a more elevated note, the Bristol Philharmonic Society announced a performance of The Messiah on 27th December 1869 at the Colston Hall. The “Band” consisted of thirty “gentlemen amateurs” of the society along with a number of “eminent professors” from various locations – one is Mr Flexney from London: this could, of course be either father or son.

We have seen Edward and his family in 1871; by 1881 they had returned to the north-west. Edward senior was then living at 64 Bala Street, Walton, Liverpool with Harriet, Nelly (now Mary E Flexney, niece) and granddaughter, Emily, aged 2, who was the youngest daughter of Edward junior. Edward gives his occupation as “Trumpeter in RAM”. I have not been able to interpret this – it is definitely not the Royal Academy of Music and may refer to a local orchestra. In a newspaper report of his son’s death in 1902 it records that Edward senior was a member of the band of the Royal Horse Guards, and he certainly served in that regiment in what was an episodic miliatry career. He first enlisted in the Grenadier Guards in April 1858, but bought himself out at a cost of £18 in May 1861. Nearly a year later he enlisted in the RHG for a term of twelve years but is recorded as deserting in November 1863. Possibly at some time he was at the Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall, Twickenham, where his son claimed to have studied in his early life.

In 1891 the family are at 15 Venus Street, Everton – not a great distance from Bala Street; Mary Eleanor has married, Emily is with her mother (see below) and Edward is a musician. Edward died later in 1891 and Harriet in 1898.

Edward junior followed the irregular marriage habits of several of his uncles and aunts – 1881 finds him apparently with a wife, Elizabeth and three children (a fourth, Emily was with his parents as we have seen). However it seems that he never married this Elizabeth Ardern, who came from Buxton, although their two eldest children were born there. Two more were born in Manchester and a further two back in Derbyshire, but in 1891 Edward married Elizabeth Zumpf and it is she who appears as his wife in the 1891 Census, where they are visiting Gunter Grahe, a German importer who resided in Manchester. On both 1881 and 1891 Censuses Edward is given as “Professor of Music”. In 1901 Edward and Elizabeth are living at 45 West Wynford Street, Salford (Edward is now a Musical Conductor) – they do not seem to have any children and Edward died in early 1902. Between 1875 and 1898, Edward played with the Halle Orchestra, as a violinist (early in his career he gained a reputation as a celebrated cornet player like his father) and may well have been a teacher with Charles Halle’s Northern College of Music. Towards the end of his time with the Halle he was a principal violinist, leaving in 1898 to concentrate on conducting.

Halle Orchestra 1888 [6]

Halle Orchestra poster 1888 showing Edward Flexney in the second violins

Edward’s children mostly used the surname Ardern, although the eldest, Charles Edward called himself Flexney. Both Charles (a professional soldier) and his younger brother, George Ardern were killed in the First World War and had no families of their own.


Agnes Flexney 1828-1902

Agnes was still living with her parents in Witney in 1851, aged 22, occupation Dressmaker. In 1861 she was in the household at Redcliffe Parade, Bristol that contained several of her siblings (see above under Mary Ann). Now 32 and still a dressmaker, she called herself Agnes Francis, widow and there is a child in the dwelling, Agnes Flexney aged 5. We have several problems here – firstly no record of a Flexney/Francis marriage can be found; secondly the birth certificate of the child Agnes is full of contradictions; and finally there is no obvious individual who fits the information we can find about a putative father.

Agnes Flexney junior was born on 15th March 1856 at 32 Colston Street, Bedminster (which would now be called Redcliffe – between Redcliffe Hill and Temple Way). Under “name of father” we have Edward Flexney, occupation “solicitor’s clerk”. Agnes senior was the informant. She gives her name as Agnes Flexney, formerly Francis (yet in 1861 is again Agnes Francis) On the 1871 Census the younger Agnes is called Agnes Francis and when she married Edward Neale in 1878 she gives her name as Agnes Flexney Francis and her father’s as James Francis, solicitor. Did the elusive Mr Francis exist at all? I can find no individual in the Census records who fits.

Agnes senior (as Agnes Francis) married William Chipperfield Hutchings in early 1871, and on the Census that year the family are living with William’s grandparents at 14 Guinea Street, Redcliffe. Also in the household are the younger Agnes and her grandmother, Mary Flexney, listed as lodgers: Mary is listed as “annuitant”, Agnes senior as “milliner” and young Agnes Francis, aged 15 as “school teacher”. Mary was to die at 14 Guinea Street on 26th September 1878, aged 82 and was buried in the churchyard of St Mary Redcliffe. As we have seen young Agnes married Edward Neale in the same year, but William and Agnes senior continued to live at the same address until Agnes died in 1902.

14 Guinea Street {1}

Not a large house (the illustration shows Nos 13 and 14), it contained 16 people in 1871 – the numbers decrease over the years, until by 1901 there are only 8 inhabitants; but still, life must have been crowded. William and Agnes appear to have had no children together but his cousin, James Price, who also lived there had several, and there were nearly always some lodgers as well.


Charles Richard Flexney 1831-92

Witney Town Band 1850 Reproduced with the kind permission of the Witney Town Band [12]

Witney Town Band 1850

Charles Richard was baptised on 17 July 1831 at St Mary’s, Witney. Although he gives his full name on marriage certificates, he always appears as Richard on the Census records, so we can assume that this is how he was generally known. He is with his parents in 1841, but he next turns up in Wrexham, north Wales ten years later, along with his younger brother, Frederick, another Flexney (unidentified) and Robert Golding from Ireland. They are all listed as musicians and seem to be staying for the Wrexham March Fair – a major event in the area, at The Blossoms Inn, Charles Street. Their names are marked with a note explaining that they were “strangers during the annual fair” There were quite a few other musicians, entertainers and hawkers in the town at the same Census. It is possible that one or more of the brothers are in the photograph above which shows the Witney Town Band in 1850.

At some time during the 1850s Richard moved to London, where he seems to have lived for the rest of his life. On 3rd December 1857 he married Ann Goodwin at St Nicholas, Deptford and the 1861 Census has them residing at 39 Fellows Street in the district of St Marys, Haggerstone. In 1868 a daughter, Annie was born in Islington and 1871 finds the small family at 13 Curzon Street, Shoreditch. In all the records we have for him, Charles Richard is always shown as a musician. Ann worked for some time as a “dresser” at Astley’s Theatre, according to a newspaper account of a robbery in 1872. She was knocked down and clothing she was carrying home was stolen. By 1881 however a drastic change had come about. Ann is now living at 9 Wood Wharf, Greenwich with daughter Annie. She is shown as “wife”, “married” and a charwoman. Meanwhile Richard is at 2 Lower John Street, Shoreditch with a new wife – Emma. In fact he had married Emma Mason (nee Charnton) at St Thomas, Bethnal Green just two months before, on 8th February 1881. As at his first marriage, Charles Richard made a mark rather than signing. This was obviously a bigamous marriage, but it seems never to have been detected by the authorities.

There were no children from this second marriage and it may not have fared any better than the first; second wife Emma is visiting friends or relatives in Bournemouth in 1891, and Richard is on his own in lodgings in Essex Street, Haggerston. The deaths of Richard and Emma Flexney are recorded in the first half of 1892 in Shoreditch District, so it could have been a temporary seperation. Ann is to be found in 1891 living as head of household at 83 Thames Street, Greenwich – she is described as “living on her own means” in a 6 roomed house with Annie who is now married to Alfred Argent. She appears to be better off than ever before – all her residences with Charles Richard were in multi-occupation houses. She still calls herself “married” but was only to enjoy two more years of independence, dying in 1893.


Frederick Flexney 1834-90

The information we have for Frederick is very similar to that for his elder brother Charles Richard. He is on the same census records in 1841 and 1851. That he was in London by 1854 is shown by his marriage to Priscilla Minton at St Johns, South Hackney. Unlike his brother, Frederick could sign his name and rather inflates his father’s occupation to “Blanket Manufacturer”. His bride was a minor, being born in 1837, but so too was Frederick – he describes himself as “of full age”, yet was only just twenty, being born in February or March 1834. Frederick’s family life was to be more conventional than his elder brother’s. The 1861 Census finds the family at 15 Provost Street, Shoreditch, although the birthplace of the children shows a degree of movement: Priscilla Agnes (known as Agnes) Islington, 1855: Louisa, Shoreditch 1857 and Frederick Richard, Bethnal Green 1859. Over the years six more children were to follow (two of whom died in their first year) and all of them with the exception of the final child (Ann Elizabeth, born & died 1875, baptized at St Anne, Shoreditch) were baptized at St Johns, Hoxton.


The family were still in Provost Street, at No 56 in 1871, and ten years later were at 13 Bacchus Walk, just off Hoxton Road. Frederick is always described simply as “musician” and they are always the second listed family in a two family property occupation. We do not know what type of music the two brothers played – long before the days of recording there was, no doubt, a large popular demand for live musical entertainments and the East End must have had its fair share of music halls and other similar venues. It seems however, that the family did not enjoy much prosperity. On his death in November 1890 the following notice appeared in The Era, the musical and theatre newspaper of the time:

TO THE BROTHERS FLEXNEYS and MUSICIANS – I am sorry to say that poor Fred. Flexney, after a long illness, was buried last Sunday, and Smallest Donation will be thankfully received by his old Friends Jim M’Grath and Fred, Alexander to help pay for the Funeral and a bit for the Widow and Boy. Address, 47 Alma Street, St John’s Road, Hoxton, London. P.S. – All letters answered.

Frederick died at the early age of 56 and Priscilla survived him for six years, dying in 1896. One wonders if his brothers contributed to his funeral or helped the family – it would seem few of them were in a position to do so.

It is from Fred and Priscilla or the Yorkshire family that any British Flexneys alive today are descended.


Selina Flexney 1837-1918

Apart from the Census and Birth, Marriage & Death indices we have very little information for Selina’s life. In late 1856 she married Charles Hadden in Witney. This was three years after the death of her father, so possibly, with her youngest daughter settled, this was the trigger for the departure of Mary Flexney to join her children in Bristol. In any event the couple had two children in Witney, Mary Ann (or Anna ) in 1857 and Selina in 1860. By the time of the Census of 1861 the family had joined the other members of the Flexney clan in Redcliffe (see above). They were at 12 Nelson Place with two other families (fourteen individuals in all). Another family in the house consisted of Henry Woodcock aged 22, a Chair Maker, born in Witney, together with his nineteen-year old wife Elizabeth, and baby daughter, Eliza. Henry was the son of John Woodcock the schoolmaster and we shall meet Elizabeth again later. Charles Hadden’s occupation in 1861 is given as labourer and ten years later he is a “Brewery Labourer”. This is last we hear of Charles – he died in 1880.

Charles and Selina had five more children whilst in Bristol – all sons; Charles William (1862), Edward (1864), Thomas (1872), William (1874) and Alfred (1879). By 1871 they had moved to the Dings area of St Philip & St Jacob parish, a district noted for its tough working class reputation. They are always found in Folly Lane, usually in one of the terraces of houses it contained: Cannon Place in 1871, Adelaide Place in 1881 and Folly Lane itself in 1891. By 1901 Selina, by then a widow for more than twenty years had moved to Queen Victoria Street, a few hundred yards away, close to the main railway lines that ran into Temple Meads station.


Folly Lane must have been a fairly unpleasant area to live in. Bounded on two sides by railway sidings and major engine sheds, to the east lay a major gas works, which, by the 1880s necessitated the demolition of Adelaide Place in order to accommodate a second gasometer. As far as we can tell, Selina was the last of Edward and Mary’s children to die – living until the spring of 1918.


John Flexney 1840-?

John was born on 9th May 1840 and baptised just under a month later at St Mary’s, Witney like all his siblings, and he appears on the 1841 Census as a child of one; on the 1851 Census he is shown with his parents, living at Wood Green. As we have seen above, John was residing at Redcliffe Parade in 1861, along with Mary Ann, Agnes and Daniel and his occupation is given as “Porter”. This Census was taken on the night of 7/8th April and just six weeks later John was married to Maria Noyes at St Pauls, Bedminster. According to the certificate John was living at Wapping, which was an area near the docks, just to the west of Redcliffe, between the Floating Harbour and the New Cut. Strangely enough, Maria’s address is Philip Street, Bedminster. Could this just have been a convenience address, so the banns could be called at St Pauls, for the Census of April shows her living with her parents, above her father’s bootmaking business in Temple Way, Redcliffe? It must be added though, that Maria had had a child, Arthur John Noyes, baptized in Bedminster the previous year, although the infant only lived a few months.

John Flexney and Maria Noyes marriage certificate 1861 [7]

John worked as a railway porter for the Great Western Railway, probably at Temple Meads (He was certainly there in 1877 when a he appeared as a witness in court in a case of theft). A twice daily trip from his home in the Redcliffe area to the station would have taken him past Mr. Noyes’ shop, and possibly inside to order new boots and converse with the young lady serving?

Temple Gate, Bath Parade [11]

The photograph shows William Noyes shop in Bath Parade, Temple Gate. It is the second on the right from the public house, with a rectangular sign between the downstairs and upstairs window. It stood exactly facing the entrance of the original Temple Meads building of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Most of the people photographed stood perfectly still as required, but there seems to be a ghost image of a child or children outside the Noyes’ shop. They obviously lacked the necessary patience. This photograph dates to 1892, but not much had changed in the intervening thirty years.

John and Maria’s first child, Ada Maria Constance was born in April 1862 at 50 Weare Street, Bedminster. Sadly little Ada died before the year was out, but the following year a son, Frank Noyes Flexney was born. By this time the family had moved to 25 Mead Street, which lay next to Weare Street. Two years later a third child was born, Kate Alice, and by 1870 they had moved to No 51, where Wrights Directory lists John Flexney. The family were still at this address when the Census was taken in 1871 and John is now described as a “Foreman Railway Porter”. In addition they have two boarders, both railway porters, one of whom is John’s nephew, Frederick Bridgman, the son of his sister, Marlin. There is also a second family living in the house.

Wright’s Directory for 1876 shows that John and Maria had moved to 6 Cambridge Street in Totterdown, and when they had their daughter Kate baptized in that year, John is described as a “Clerk”.

Cambridge Street, Totterdown

Houses in Cambridge Street (No 6 has been demolished)

What had seemed to be a steady improvement in the family standing was to end by 1880. That is the final year in which John was to appear in the Directory, indeed, when Maria died at the tragically early age of 37, he may not even have been living at home. The causes of Maria’s death are recorded on the death certificate as “Albuminuria 7 years, Dropsy, Coma”, so it seems as if she had been an invalid for some time, and her father, William Noyes is the informant, “in attendance”. Her husband, John is described as a labourer. When his son Frank married in January of the following year he still gives John’s occupation as labourer, but in the Census just a few months later, John describes himself (like his elder brothers) as a musician. He is living at a lodging house at 25/6 Albert Road, Swindon, and is one of twenty boarders there on Census night; two others are musicians so it is possible they were travelling as a group.

We can’t tell if John ever returned to Bristol. The 1881 Census shows his son Frank already married and working as a porter in a private school in Redland, whilst daughter Kate was living with her maternal aunt, Clara Noyes. Apart from a single entry in the next Census no further trace of John has yet been found – not even a record of his death. In 1891 John is still a musician and again in Wiltshire, this time in a caravan belonging to a travelling show – “The Wild West” which was stopping at Sherston Magna. The company occupied five caravans and comprised two “proprietors”, three musicians, a stall keeper, groom, three acrobats, three general labourers (male) and two general servants (female) as well as four children, who were the grandchildren of Eliza Harvey, one of the proprietors. The other two musicians, apart from John, were Eliza’s two sons and the stall keeper was her daughter-in-law.

John was only fifty at the time of this last record, so it is possible he may have emigrated, lived under an assumed name or simply died unnoticed by the officialdom of the period. We may never know.

John and Maria’s son Frank stayed in Bristol and married Leah Fook, who was nine years his senior, although not until after they had had a daughter together. In all they had nine children, of whom seven survived into adulthood.

Frank and Leah Flexney c1905 [4]

Their photograph, taken around 1905 shows a confident, prosperous couple, verging onto middle class status, however Frank was to die seven years later and his two sons, Francis & Oliver both perished in the First World War, like their Manchester cousins, so no male members of the family were left. The last individual to bear the Flexney name in Bristol was Frank and Leah’s daughter, my great aunt, Lily Maria who married at the advanced age of 62 in 1953.

Daniel Flexney 1843-1917

Edward and Mary’s youngest child, Daniel was baptised at St Mary’s Church on 23 July 1843 and appears on the 1851 Census with his parents, living at Wood Green, Witney. Ten years later he is in Bristol, in the households of the Flexneys and Woodcocks at 1 Redcliffe Parade. Under the occupation column is written “An Apprentice”, unusually vague for an enumerator. We know from later records that Daniel became a Chair Maker, so can presume he was engaged in the furniture trade at seventeen. Also in the house and the only person not a member of the two families is Emily Hewlet, aged seventeen like Daniel, and a Pupil Teacher. This was a senior pupil who had graduated to teaching the younger children and would normally, in the course of time, become a teacher herself. It may be that Emily taught in the Recliffe National School where John Woodcock was a master.

John Flexney Census 1861 copy

1861 Census showing the Woodcocks, Flexneys and Emily Hewlet

Just two years later, on 7th July 1863 Daniel and Emily were married at St Hilary, Glamorgan, a village a few miles west of Cardiff. Although Emily was born in Bristol (in 1851 she was living with an uncle in Bedminster), her mother, Anne, who witnessed the marriage hailed from South Wales, so perhaps this is the reason for the place chosen for the wedding. Daniel’s occupation is given as Cabinet Maker. Just seven weeks later their first child, Frances Annie was born (25th August 1863). The couple had two more children, Mary Eleanor (1865) and Henry Edward (1867). The two former were born in Mead Street, Bedminster and son Harry in Somerset Street. So the family resided quite close to Daniel’s elder brother, John. By 1871 the marriage had broken down completely however. It is interesting that the certified copy of their marriage certificate I have bears the date 5th February 1868, just a month after her son’s birth; did Emily require legal confirmation that the marriage had taken place?

In the Census of 1871, we have seen that Mary Eleanor was living with Daniel’s brother Edward under the name of Nelly. Young Harry was boarding with a family called Sprake in Banwell, Somerset and Emily was employed as a nurse in the house of Thomas Rich, a chemist, at 32 High Street, Weston Super Mare. Meanwhile Daniel is recorded in a multi-occupancy house at 2 Cannon Street, St James. He is now described as a chair maker and has a new wife, Elizabeth and two children, Alice aged 8 and Annie, 7. We can assume that Annie is his daughter, Frances Annie, but who are Elizabeth and Alice? We need to retrace our steps to the Woodcock family who were in the same house as Selina Flexney and her husband, Charles Hadden in 1861. Henry Woodcock (a chair maker like Daniel) was one of the sons of John Woodcock the teacher by his first wife Fanny. He married Elizabeth Smith in Bedminster in 1859, and they were to have five children, among them an Emily in late 1862 and Elizabeth Jane in 1870. We can’t tell when Daniel and Elizabeth moved in together, but it is possible that the Alice in the 1871 Census is, in fact, Emily Woodcock, perhaps her real name being an embarrassment. I haven’t yet traced Elizabeth’s other children in that year; they were presumably with Henry who died in 1872. We have a further problem with the children in Daniel’s household in 1881, but before that another major crisis was to hit the household.

In October 1876 Daniel and Elizabeth were married in Bristol. Unlike in the case of his elder brother Charles Richard, the authorities found out and Daniel was tried for bigamy in March 1877. In his defence he claimed that his first marriage had broken down after three years and that he and Emily had agreed to separate “owing to domestic differences” and he agreed to pay her 2/6d a week. He also claimed that “an accountant” advised him this was as good as a divorce. He added that both he and Elizabeth thought that remarriage was allowed after such a long separation. If this story of the first marriage was true, it means that Daniel and Emily had split up before the birth of Harry and it was several years before he and Elizabeth set up home – her youngest daughter with Henry Woodcock was born around April 1870. However, in spite of both prosecution and defence requesting leniency in the case, Daniel was sentenced to 3 months with hard labour after pleading guilty.

The 1881 Census finds Emily Flexney, now describing herself as a widow, living with her mother, Ann Hewlett in Ealing, West London. She is a dressmaker and Ann an annuitant. Not too far away Harry, now aged 15 is living-in at the White Hart, Windmill Road, his occupation “Pot Boy”. Meanwhile Daniel and Elizabeth are living back in Nelson Place, Redcliffe, at No 10. With them are two unmarried daughters, Jane W. Flexney, a “general servant”, aged 17 and Jane Woodcock, 11 a scholar. The latter is presumably Elizabeth Jane, the youngest daughter of Henry and Elizabeth, but who is the former? I can find no answer to this quandary – could it be Alice/Emily, born 1862 in another guise? But why Flexney for one girl and Woodcock for the other in that case?

By 1891 several people in this sad saga had died. Young Harry in London was first, towards the end of 1882, and then Ann Hewlett in 1887. Finally around August 1888 Elizabeth Woodcock/Flexney died in Bristol. She and Daniel do not seem to have had any children together, but she had lived just long enough to see her daughter Elizabeth Jane marry Alfred Langdon earlier that year. Whether or not their family tragedies had brought them closer, in the Census of 1891 Daniel and his first wife Emily were back together, living in Ducie Road, Lawrence Hill. Emily died in 1899 and by the census two years later Daniel was living in Sheffield, a lone boarder with a local family. His occupation is still chair maker, but the word “cabinet” has been added, as had happened in some other censuses. 1911 finds Daniel back in South Wales, living in the household of Margret Ace, a widow with two children. There are two other lodgers in the house, at 59 Fleet Street, Swansea, but they appear at the bottom of the list, below the Ace children – Daniel appears next after Margret. Daniel died of a heart attack in Swansea on 12th April 1917 and although he died in the Swansea Workhouse Infirmary, his address is given as 69 Fleet Street. He was 73.

Daniel’s two daughters both married and seem to be flourishing in the 1901 Census. Mary Eleanor had married Daniel Jones in Liverpool in 1882 and had two daughters, Ivy and Violet. Frances Annie wed Henry Searle at St John’s Bedminster on 7th July 1884 and by the Census of 1901 she had presented him with six sons and then two daughters. Although Henry was to die in 1907, Frances Annie lived on to 1931.

Frances Annie Flexney in later years. Reproduced with the kind permission of Mr N Mills [3]

Frances Annie Searle nee Flexney

(Reproduced with the kind permission of Mr N Mills)



Bath and Bristol

Earl Street, St James

The Gibbs Family

The ancestors of Joan Gibbs mostly hailed from Bath and south Gloucestershire, yet gravitated to Bristol during the course of the nineteenth century. The earliest member of the family we can be positive about was John Gibbs who was born around 1810 in the Walcot area of Bath. He is almost certainly the individual baptised at St Swithins, Walcot on 17th December 1809, the son of Thomas and Mary Gibbs. They themselves had been married at the chapel of ease of St Mary, Queen’s Square, which was part of the large parish of Walcot, on 1st February 1807, both being shown as widowers. Mary’s previous husband was named Smith, but earlier records are unable to pinpoint her maiden name. Thomas was probably the person whose burial is recorded at St Swithins on January 4th 1819 aged 59 but we can be sure that Mary’s burial is that recorded at the same church on June 26th 1838, as her place of death is given as 62 Avon Street, Walcot which is the address of her son, John the following year.

St Swithin Walcot R

St Swithin’s Walcot


John Gibbs had married Amelia Helps on May 19th 1833 at St Swithins. Amelia’s family also came from the Walcot area, her father, William, a plasterer had died (aged 33) in 1819; her mother was born Elizabeth Vincent around 1776 and the couple had married at Bathwick before moving to Walcot, where they had four children baptised, Amelia being the third in 1815.

Following their marriage, John and Amelia seem to have moved to Bristol – their first two children, Amelia (1834) and Thomas (1836) both give Bristol as their place of birth on later census records and their baptisms are recorded at Holy Trinity church St Phillips. By the middle of 1839 the family were back in Bath however, and their next child, William was born at 62 Avon Street on 1st June of that year. John’s occupation is given as “comb maker”, and he continues to give this in future years along with his other profession in the retail trade. In due course, three other children appear in the records; Elizabeth Helps (1842), Frederick (1851) and Robert Frederick (1854). By the time of the 1841 Census the family were living in Stable Lane, Walcot, and ten years later were in Bridewell Lane, closer to the centre of the city. This is where John seems to have carried on his occupations as variously a Toy Dealer, China and Glass Dealer, and Newsagent as well as continuing as a Comb Maker. Their businesses certainly are listed in directories as being here, even after the family moved residence to Hartley Place.

Hartley Place map

Hartley Place off Lansdown Road, Bath

The 1851 census, when the family were in Bridewell Lane, gives John as a Comb Maker and Amelia as a “Shop Huckstress”. This indicates that she was already in the retail trade, a Huckster being a person who sold small items from a tray, either instore or door-to-door (like a pedlar). Perhaps it was Amelia who built up the retail business that the Gibbs’ carried on throughout the rest of their lives. By 1871 John was described as a General Dealer, but no more occupations are recorded for Amelia until 1881 (after John’s death) when she is described as a “Newsagent”. The family stayed in Hartley Place (a court of five or six houses, just off Lansdown Road) until after John’s death in 1880. By 1891 Amelia had moved just around the corner to become a lodger at 12 Guinea Lane. She is described as a “Retired Shopkeeper”. John died early in 1880 and was buried in Locksbrook Cemetery which served the St Swithins parish.

12 Guinea Lane Bath

12 Guinea Lane

Amelia Gibbs died in early summer 1900 and was buried with her husband (the cemetery record notes “2nd interment”) at Locksbrook on July 21st of that year.

It is gratifying to be able to record the history of one’s family and such accounts tend to gloss over the situations where no progress can be made. I try to research the story of all the siblings of my ancestors, although they are generally not mentioned in these articles. One such problem ancestor is the eldest daughter of John and Amelia; named Amelia like her mother she was born, as we have seen, in Bristol in 1834, and in December 1859 she married Henry Abraham at Bathwick church. A son, Mark was born in April 1860, but died at the age of five weeks and was buried at Bathwick. Thereafter I can find no record at all of Amelia. In the 1861 Census, Henry is living with his parents and described as “married” and twenty years later he married again, but I can find no death or any other trace of Amelia under either her maiden or married name.

Water Street, Bristol

Water Street, St Pauls

The two eldest sons of John and Amelia continued the family tradition by moving to Bristol early in their adult lives. The 1861 Census finds them at 11 Water Street, St Pauls. There were two households there – the Mitchell family, and Ellen Cornwell and her son, with whom the brothers were lodging. Both Ellen and the head of the Mitchell family, Henry had been born in Wotton under Edge in Gloucestershire, although all of the Mitchell children had been born in Walcot. We shall return to this family later, as the eldest daughter, Mary Ann was to marry William Gibbs later that year. She is described as a servant and William is a Chair Maker. Interestingly they married at St Swithin’s Walcot, which was the home parish of both of them, but seem to have lived virtually all of their married lives in the St James area of Bristol. The birth of their eldest son, William Henry is registered in Bristol in the quarter ending 31st December 1861, whilst the wedding took place on the 15th December of that year, presumably after the birth.

The second son, Frederick Samuel was christened at St Pauls in Bristol, but most of the baptisms of their growing family took place at St James, and the Census returns show them living at West Street in 1871 and Earl Street in 1891. The Census for 1881 shows the family returning to Bath and living with William’s recently widowed mother, Amelia at Hartley Place.

St James c1800

St James church

William’s occupation is normally shown as “Chair Frame Maker”, but the 1891 Census shows an interesting range of jobs for his children: Frederick and John who were married and not living at home at this time were respectively a mason’s labourer and a french polisher; William was a nail cutter, Mary Amelia (born 1870, sometimes Emily) was a seamstress, Thomas (1873) a chair maker, like his father, Henry (1874) a pawnbroker’s assistant, Robert Charles (1876) an errand boy and young Albert Edward (1886) was still a scholar; Albert Edward later became a collier like his elder brother Frederick Samuel and was killed in the First World War near Cambrai in 1917.


The 1891 Census was the last in which William and Mary Ann appear –she died in 1895 aged 53 and he died in 1898 aged 59 – and the family were back in St James Parish, Bristol, living at 11 Earl Street. Apart from the sojourn in Bath they seem to have always lived in the close-packed streets and lanes just to the north of St James Church. It was obviously a tight-knit community who lived in one another’s pockets. At the same address in 1881 William’s sons, William, Frederick and John were boarders with the family of Edwin Horsford – this Edwin was a chair frame maker like William and was a fellow boarder with him in 1861 with the Mitchell family (see above). Another boarder at the Horsfield’s was a Joseph Cavill – he was still at No.11 in 1891 with William’s family, and also in 1911 with William’s son John. The Horsford family had moved to No.7.

St James area

The area north of St James Church where the Gibbs family lived until the early twentieth century

As we have seen, John Gibbs, the son of William and Mary Ann had stayed behind in Bristol when his parents moved briefly to Bath. In 1881, still aged only 14 he is listed as french polisher’s apprentice. He was presumably following his Mitchell grandfather, Henry into that occupation and in 1891 was living at 15 Upper Montague Street with his wife, Ada (nee Street) and first child, Amelia.

Earl Street 2

Earl Street, St James

By 1901 John and Ada were back at 11 Earl Street with their growing family. Amelia was now 11 and the next daughter, Ada, (born 1891) was staying with her Street grandmother. We then have Elizabeth Emily (8), Mary Gladys (6) Mabel Martha (3) and Frederick Charles (1). A final son, Albert, was to be born the following year. Also in the household there were five lodgers, including Joseph Cavill and his son (also Joseph) and John’s younger brother, Henry who was now a woodcarver. Tragedy was to strike the family soon however, as John died at the early age of 40 on 20 March 1907, of cirrhosis of the liver. This may have been caused in part by his work with strong chemicals, but it is also worth noting that by 1911 younger brother Henry was the landlord of the White Hart in Earl Street.

Gay Street c1900

Gay Street from the top c1900

How the family coped without a breadwinner is impossible to say, but I have not been able to trace them on the 1911 Census so far. Obviously as the children grew and went out to work, life must have improved and in 1913-4 they were living in Hillgrove Cottage, Carolina Row (a short street connecting King’s Square to the bottom of Gay Street). By 1915 they were living at 4 Gay Street, Kingsdown, just to the north of the area where they were born and brought up. Ada Gibbs is reported to have kept her connections with St James’ as she was a cleaner in the church around this time. No 4 is the second house from the right in the photograph above, which shows the street from the top. It appears there is a small girl playing with her pram outside.
One by one the children married and moved away, apart from Mabel, whose fiance died before they could marry. Elizabeth also had a wartime romance with a soldier who was subsequently killed and the relationship resulted in the birth of Joan Ethel Gibbs (1918). Elizabeth later married Herbert Eason. Both of John and Ada’s sons entered military service. Frederick actually enlisted on April 26th 1915 when he was still 14 years and 9 months old; he claimed he was 18. His deception lasted almost a year before he was discharged in March 1916 for having “made a mis-statement” on his attestation document. He later became a regular soldier and took part in the evacuation at Dunkirk in 1940. His younger brother Albert was too young for the First World War but, having been in the North Somerset Yeomanry already, enlisted in the Royal Tank Corps in 1923. He served eight years and returned to his trade of leaded light glazing. Ada Gibbs died in 1935, by which time she was living with her daughter, Mabel and young Joan at Mabel’s house at 7 Greenway Park, Southmead. Mabel spent all her working life at Wills Tobacco factory in Bedminster and had not long retired when she died suddenly in 1956.
The photograph below shows most of Ada’s family on the occasion of the marriage of Mary Gladys (known in the family as Polly) to Bertie Horwood on 2 July 1921. The wedding was at St James and this photograph was probably taken at the back of 4 Gay Street

Gladys Gibbs wedding

Standing: Unknown (bridesmaid?) Unkown (best man?), Frederick, Mabel, Elizabeth Willis (Ada’s sister), Albert, Amelia.
Sitting: Bertie Horwood, Mary Gladys, Ada Gibbs with Joan on her lap.


Election Fever


William Hogarth – Polling Day

Elections of one sort or another have been constantly in the news for the past few years and the prospect of yet more hangs above our heads like the sword of Damocles. So, as my genealogical side took over, I decided to look back at the voting record of my ancestors and try and discern what were their motives or priorities in the way in which they cast their ballots.

Of my immediate forebears I can say little, other than than guess how they voted and why; I’m fairly sure I know how my parents cast their vote from conversations with them; my grandparents less so. Beyond that all is a mystery caused by the secret ballot which was introduced in the UK in 1872. Of course, prior to the 1920s my female ancestors did not have the vote, and few of my male ones did either before the Second Reform Act of 1867. However, when the ballot was not secret, the lists of voters and for whom they voted were printed and published for all to see. In many cases, no doubt, many voted with this in mind; it did not go unnoticed that one’s employer, landlord or creditor would discover where your vote was cast.

The constituences of the pre-Reform Act Parliament which existed until 1831 were vastly different to the ones we know today. Everyone has heard of the “Rotten Boroughs” where the franchise was exercised by a handful of people; in the notorious case of Old Sarum in Wiltshire there were at one time just 7 electors, controlled by the local landowner who owned all the houses by which they exercised their voting rights. There were many others, all returning two members to Parliament. In addition though, there were the free boroughs where the franchise was extended to all freemen or burgesses. Some of these, like Westminster or Bristol had very large electorates indeed, Bristol usually recording a total of over 5000 votes in any election. As well as the boroughs, each county returned two “Knights of the Shire” who were elected by a land-owning or renting franchise. Quite often in the 18th century at least, elections in the shires were not contested as the Tories or “Country” party normally took all the seats.


William Pitt the younger addressing the House

The Parliament these conditions gave rise to were again very different to that of the post-Reform Act assemblies. The core of the house was the “Tory” knights of the shires who generally voted according to their own consciences or desires. They did not necessarily back any particular line, whether government or opposition. There were also many placemen, usually elected from seats where the government could control elections; naval ports were the main ones, but there were others. These MPs always voted with the government. Finally there were the “professional politicians” who are the ones we have usually heard of; Pitt Fox and Burke for example. They normally sat for rotten or pocket boroughs, nominated by the patron of the seat, although some, like Burke, sat for the free boroughs and took their chances at election time. One must remember that the government of the day was very much the King’s government. No ministry could survive without the royal patronage, if not always the royal approval. The King appointed his ministers, but generally understood the need to have some chance of them securing a majority in the House of Commons when required. In the 18th century, it should be noted, no government ever lost a general election.

Although we still use the labels “Tory” and “Whig” for the factions in Parliament, they do not really mean very much; what was required to govern was the confidence of the King and a majority in the House. Some have preferred the labels “Ins” and “Outs” as being more realistic.

I am lucky in having several ancestors who were enfranchised at one time or another. There are one or two who appear on a voting list where I cannot find a Poll Book with the votes cast, but in two cases my forebears were freemen of boroughs where the data for every election survives.

1721 Bristol Poll Book

The published Poll Book for the 1721 election in Bristol

John Harwood (sometimes spelt Horwood) was a house carpenter and merchant of Bristol. At the time of the 1721 election he is listed in the Poll Books as a Freeholder of St James parish. Other records show that he purchased property there in the early years of the century and his will (1744) makes mention of freehold houses he owns in St James’ Square and Merchant Street. His vote is recorded in three elections; 1721, 1734 and 1739.

John Horwood Poll 1721

John Horwood’s votes recorded in the Poll Book

In 1721 there were three candidates for the two places as MP for the City and County of Bristol: Sir Abraham Elton, Joseph Earle (John cast his vote for these two; every voter could choose one or two candidates) and William Hart. The final result was Earle 2141, Elton 1869 and Hart 1743, Elton and Earle being returned. Both the new MPs were prominent local men, Elton a previous Mayor and Earle a Sheriff of Bristol, and both are described as Whigs, whereas Hart was a Tory, but it seems that local considerations were uppermost in the voters’ minds – who would do best for Bristol and its trade. The election of 1727 saw the return of Abraham Elton (son of the winner of 1721) and John Scrope who was another Whig and Secretary to the Treasury. William Hart had decided to stand again, but was bribed by Elton to the sum of £1000, and did not proceed to the poll.

The mention of direct bribery, which in this case was denied, but expressed as a reimbursement to “offset election expenses”, reveals how rotten the system was even in the nominally “free boroughs”. As well as other candidates, voters were usually offered inducements, from free food and liquor to outright cash payments. A letter of the time records that at this 1727 election “The people who sold their votes have received from one to five guineas per man”, which shows how expensive campaigns could be.

In 1734 Elton and Scrope stood again, this time against the Tory Thomas Coster, but Scrope was beaten into third place, mainly because he had voted in Parliament for an Excise Bill (which as a government placeman he would have to) against the wishes of the Bristol Corporation. John Harwood again voted for the two Whigs. Thomas Coster died in 1739 and a by-election was called to replace him. On this occasion, a non-partisan, Henry Combe, a Bristol merchant stood against Sir Edward Southwell, a Whig country gentleman with no particular connection to the City. John Harwood voted for Combe but the establishment Southwell won by a narrow majority. Seemingly John Harwood voted for the local candidates who stood for the interests of Bristol merchants and trade, rather than strictly partisan party issues. The following election was unopposed and John died in 1745.


Several of my Bumstead ancestors, confusingly all called Stephen, were freemen of the town of Ipswich, and as such were entitled to vote in both the elections for the two MPs for Ipswich and the two Knights of the County MPs for Suffolk. The latter, however were virtually never contested and the only record I have of voting was in 1790 when Stephen Bumstead (1751-1831) voted for the successful Tory candidates Sir John Rous and Sir Thomas Charles Bunbury. Stephen is recorded as voting at all the Ipswich elections from 1784 until 1826; he is often referred to as “senior” after his son Stephen (1778-1841) became a freeman and acquired voting rights in 1800. Three of Stephen’s sons in turn became freemen and voted from the 1826 election onwards. In this latter election the three Stephens are recorded as “Stephen Bumpstead, Stephen Bumpstead junior and Stephen Bumpstead (London), my great great grandfather having moved to the capital sometime in the mid 1820s.

1826 Electoral Poll Book Ipswich copy

The 1826 Ipswich Poll Book

There is little point in listing the results of the many elections the family took part in, but they always voted for the Blue candidate. Party politics in Ipswich was a fiercely divisive matter and the parties were usually referred to as the Blues and the Yellows. The former were the “Country” party standing for the landowning interest, but also the upholding of the established church and establishment in general; they were generally coalescing into the Tory party whilst the Yellows adhered to the Whigs and represented a more radical outlook. Election time was noisy and often violent with gangs of dockers and others terrorising the town and trying to persuade voters one way or the other; as in Bristol in earlier days, bribery and coercion were common. The open ballot and the time taken (elections were often spead over four or five days) presented plenty of opportunity for pressure of one sort or another to be applied. For the voters though there were good pickings, if one was careful. It is interesting that the three Bumstead brothers all travelled from London to Ipswich to vote in the late 1820s and 1830s, which meant a couple of days travelling and time off work – could they really have been such sincere party adherents?


Mr Pickwick at the Eatanswill Election Hustings

A wonderfully satirical glimpse into contemporary elections is seen in Charles Dickens’ “Pickwick Papers” when Mr Pickwick and his companions visit the town of “Eatanswill” at polling time; Eatanswill is actually Sudbury in Suffolk and the atmosphere must have been very similar to nearby Ipswich. All the corruption and fraud around elections necessarily produced results that were challenged. In Ipswich, both the 1820 and 1826 results were overturned on appeal, the first resulting in the two Blue candidates being disqualified and the Yellows triumphing; in 1826 exactly the opposite was the case.

Tory ad 1823

1823 Ipswich newspaper advertisement

Apart from election time, at least one of the Bumsteads took an active role in political matters. Two newspaper advertisements give an indication of this. One lists a Stephen Bumstead amongst the signatories protesting at the invitation (by the Yellows no doubt) made to Daniel O’Connell, the Irish Nationalist to speak in Ipswich in 1836 and another dated 1823 indicates the establishment of a constituency group to advance conservative principles. Again Stephen Bumstead is one of the names listed. With the deaths of all three bearers of the name in the period 1831-46, this stage of my forebears political life draws to a close. The next generation (yet another Stephen 1844-1903) had to wait for the later 19th century reform acts before he appeared on a list of electors in Bristol in 1897.

1897 Stephen Bumstead electoral roll copy