Seventeenth Century Voices


letter from richard mogg 1618 outside

The outside of Richard Mogg’s letter

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

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

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

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

letter from richard mogg 1618

Letter from Richard Mogg to John Trevelyan

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


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

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


Transcription of letter of Richard Mogge 1618


To the right wrll

John Trevelyan

Esqr at Nettlecombe

these d [eliver]


My humble dewtie rememberd  Sr

it is now likelie yr worpp wilbe made Sheriffe

for Somrset this yeare, for thother two doe both mak

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

my service unto you, wch if yuo please to accept

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

as I have formerlie done for others, my old Mr

Sr John Windham cann report of my honestie

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

others, but for that he is yr neighbour and

I am sure your good frend to him I appeale

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

this Terme for dispache of my now Mrs

bussnes, the wch ended and yr worpp Sheriffe

I will in five daies after repare unto you

and if in the meanetyme while I am in

London if you if you please to use me in any

service, I shalbe readie to be Commanded

Sou humblie taking my leave I end resting

                       Yr wrpps to be Commdd

                               Richard Mogge

London 7o November 



Some personal reflections on the Great War 1914-1918

Vendresse Military Cemetery

Vendresse Military Cemetery

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

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

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

Frank and Leah Flexney

Frank and Leah Flexney c 1905

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

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

Vendresse map

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

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

Vendresse Ridge 1997

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

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

Frank Flexney inscription

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

Headstone SWB Soldier Vendresse

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

Oliver Flexney grave Outtersteene Cemetery

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

Australian Field Hospital photos

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

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

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

Walter Winifred & Ernest Matthews

Walter and Winifred Matthews with their eldest child, Ernest Oliver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frank Joan Bert George Reg and Fred Gibbs copy 2

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

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

Headstone John Williams

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

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

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

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

Donald MacDonald

Donald MacDonald c1950

Thoroughly Modern Millier

St Swithin Walcot R

St Swithin’s, Walcot, Bath

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

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

Amelia Gibbs

“Aunty Millie” Amelia Smith nee Gibbs in 1922

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

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

12 Guinea Lane Bath

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

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

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

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

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

Baptism William Helps 1789

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

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

Baptism Joseph Helps 1791

Baptism of Joseph Helps 1791

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

Possible marriage John Helps 1784

Adventures in DNA

Edinburgh Sep 2011 042

Edinburgh Castle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


My Ancestry ethnicity profile

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

Industrial Archaeology

Stoke Lane Sept 2011 001 copy

St Michaels Church, Stoke Lane before 19th century rebuilding

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

3 Temple Gate, Bath Parade

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

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

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

Murtry Mill 1888 OS

Murtry Flour Mill on an 1881 OS map

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

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

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

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

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

Stoke Lane 1760 detail copy

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

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

Finch Foundry

Finch Foundry

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

Stoke Lane Sept 2011 Mill wall

In Clavey’s Wood showing wall of mill

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

Stoke Lane Sept 2011 mill leat

Clavey’s mill showing the mill leat and sluice gate

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.