The Horwood family of Bristol

St James Square, Bristol c1805

I have already mentioned two Bristol families in previous articles – the Heales and the Drews, and now will turn my attention to the third main family who provide the connection between the city and the Peters family of Chew Magna; the Horwoods.The surname is variously spelt as Horwood and Harwood, but I have chosen the former as it was the first version I came across and sheer laziness prevents me from changing all my notes.

William Horwood was born around 1633/5 but no record of his parentage, baptism or possible apprenticeship has been found yet. The first time we encounter him is at his marriage to Elizabeth Drew at the church of St Philip and St Jacob in Bristol on April 7th 1656. Just under a year later, on March 3rd 1657, William was admitted as a Burgess of Bristol, giving him the right to vote in local and national elections and the right to work and trade within the city. He was granted this by reason of his marriage to Elizabeth, the daughter of a Burgess, Robert Drew the housecarpenter; marriage to a daughter or widow of a Burgess conferred the right, as well as the more normal methods of entry which were as the apprentice to a Burgess on completion of the apprenticeship, or as the son of one.

By trade William was a feltmaker, possibly serving an apprenticeship outside the city of Bristol. Horwood/Harwood was a common name in south Gloucestershire. Feltmaking or Hatting was an important local industry, suppling the hinterland as well as a substantial export trade, especially to the American and Caribbean colonies. Whilst Bristol had its own Company of Feltmakers and Haberdashers, catering to the retail and wholesale trade, as well as manufacturing, South Gloucestershire was the hub of a cottage industry geared to the cheaper end of the market. By the middle of the eighteenth century it is estimated that there were over 10,000 people employed in the hatting trade in the villages of Frampton Cotterell, Winterbourne and Rangeworthy alone. The majority of these would be piece-workers, being supplied with materials, and tied to selling to members of the Bristol Company.

It was a dangerous occupation too – many workers succumbing to lung complaints brought on by the constant wool dust which the process produced as well as the ever-present threat of “hatters’ disease” caused by mercury poisoning, and the inhalation of the fibres used in the process. This caused mood swings, memory loss and tremors and gave us the expression “as mad as a hatter”.

Art of Hat Making
A print of the mid 18th century shows the process of feltmaking. This would hardly have changed since the days of William Horwood. The feltmaker is shown to the right, with his bow, layering the fibres into a “batt”. By plucking the bow over the loose fibres they were rearranged and layered into the required shape. The “batt’ was then rolled up and down boards over a “bason” containing heated acidic liquid – this is shown to the left. This arrangement of boards and bason was known as a kettle. The batts would be regularly dipped into the liquid and then pressed and rolled again until the correct thickness was acquired. On the floor are the moulds for the shaping of the hats, and finished hats are hanging to dry on the walls.

A study of the archives of the Company of Feltmakers shows that William was admitted a member in 1660 and during the next few years played an active part in the organisation. He served twice as Warden (1662 and 1665) and twice as Master of the Company, the first time in 1666, when he would have only been in his early thirties. His second term was in 1670.

William and Elizabeth had four children baptised at St Philip and St Jacobs, Elizabeth (1656), Mary (1657), William (1660) and John (1663), and both the sons were later apprenticed to House Carpenters, following in the profession of their grandfather, Robert Drew. John, having completed his apprenticeship with Thomas Stockman, was admitted as a Burgess of Bristol on March 31st 1685. Two years later, on June 2, 1687 John married Mary Heale at the Quaker Meeting House in Bristol. As noted in a previous article, Mary was the daughter of two prominent Quakers, John and Margaret Heale, whereas the Horwood family appear to have diverged in their religious affiliations. When the intention to marry of John and Mary was first declared at the Quaker Meeting, Elizabeth was present and gave her “concent and aprobacion”. This however, was not sufficient for the Meeting and the following month John appeared again with “a certeficate from his father William Horwood of his concent and aprobacion”. William was not a witness at their marriage, whereas Elizabeth made a bold EH mark.


William probably died in 1690/1 as his membership of the Feltmakers Company ceases then, but I have not found his burial yet. It was certainly not in the Quaker burial ground at Redcliff, whereas Elizabeth was interred there at her death in 1693. So it seems William remained an anglican and Elizabeth, in common with several of her siblings, joined the Society of Friends. William and Elizabeth had lived in one of the properties built, and held on a Corporation lease, by Robert Drew. In his will of 1681, Robert left this house to trustees to hold for the use of Elizabeth for the remaining term of the lease. It is probable that the newly-wed John and Mary Horwood lived there too, as at the birth of their eldest child, Mary on February 7th 1688, the certificate records that she was born at their dwelling house in Castle Street

Birth of Mary Horwood 1687 2

Two further daughters, Elizabeth (1689) and Margaret (date unknown) were born to the marriage before the premature death of Mary Horwood in 1695. She too, was buried in the Redcliff burial ground. It would be fifty years before her husband John was to join her.

John continued to reside in the Castle Precincts, as the area built on the site of the demolished Bristol Castle was known, and it may well be that the family occupied the same house that Robert Drew had built back in the 1650s and which John’s parents had lived in. In 1696 a list of inhabitants was drawn up for taxation purposes and as the transcribed extract below shows, John Horwood’s neighbour is one Peter Gray, who was another tenant of the Corporation and whose property was alongside two of the houses mentioned in Robert’s will. Other members of the extended Drew family can also be seen – Mary and Francis Page, and John and Darcas Collins.

John Horwood in Inhabitants of Bristol 1696 crop

It is interesting that John’s eldest daughter Mary is not present here. This document does not represent a snapshot of Bristolians, in the way of modern Censuses, but was intended as a definitive list on which to base future tax assessments. It may well be that Mary, who would only have been eight years old, had moved into her grandfather Heale’s residence. John Heale, who had lived in Wine Street, Bristol moved to Chew Magna at some time around 1691/2, when his name disappears from taxation records in the city. Possibly, as John’s senior heiress, it was considered suitable for her to be raised in the house she would inherit and become the lady of the household. Mary’s eldest daughter, as will be seen, appears to do the same in the following century.

John Horwood’s name does not feature in Quaker records very often; he does attend the Men’s meeting on occasion, and in 1690 is paid for his work on the new School established by the Friends. His signature is also seen as witnessing marriages, but he was certainly not a prominent member of the Society. His business interests do seem to have prospered though. His name is no longer found in the taxation records of Castle Precincts; possibly the lease originally granted to Robert Drew had ended and John now appears in the tax records of St James parish to the north. Initially in “Broadmeade” in 1704, and later on in Milk Street. An indenture of 1703 shows him involved in the purchase of property in the Barton (St James Barton presumably), Rosemary Lane and “Angell House near the weir”. Another in 1719 involves three houses in St Peters parish and St Philips. Whether or not John was involved in these deals as a carpenter, to build or rebuild on the sites, or purely as an investor is hard to tell. Certainly the Poll Books for 1734 and 1739 show John as a freeholder of St James parish.

On one of the documents where John is named he is described as a merchant rather than a carpenter, and indeed he was involved in other enterprises. At this time, Bristol was one of the pricipal lead-smelting centres in the country, and together with other businessmen John was involved in the extraction of lead. At least three leases survive (there could well be others) which show him as a partner (often the senior one) in prospecting and digging for minerals. One dated August 26th 1719 show him acquiring two-eights of a partnership to “dig and search for lead and other ore upon the Cardiganshire lands of Thomas Johnes of Llanfair”. The other parties were the landowner and his son-in-law, a Bristol merchant, a Gloucestershire Gentleman and a Thornbury yeoman. These individuals were named in another lease two year later, in another Welsh mining enterprise on the lands of Viscount Lisburne. The consideration at that time for a 21 year lease was £50 and one seventh of the ores raised. In 1726 John entered into a 7 year lease for the mining rights on the land of a Captain Obadiah Webb at Stoke Bishop, in the parish of Westbury-On-Trym. This may well have been in the area of the old lead workings on Durdham Downs.

All of the houses constructed by John Horwood have probably long since been demolished, but one certainly survived into the 1880s. On June 16th 1709 John was granted a lease on a plot of land on the eastern side of Queen Square. The Square was a grand new development by the Corporation of Bristol on land between King Street and the quay, known as the Marsh. It had previously been a public recreational area, with a bowling green and tree-lined walkways. A piecemeal attempt to develop it had come to nothing and it was resolved to grant a good number of leases (some 25 within 6 months) so that it could be completed, and raise the status of the city as befitted its trading reputation. It remains the second largest square in Britain to this day.

John was originally granted a plot with a 64 foot frontage and a depth towards Welsh Back of 121 feet. A codicil to the lease requests instead for there to be two plots of 32 foot, with the more southerly one granted to Henry Walter Esq.

1709 Lease John Horwood Queen Square

The 1709 lease

The lease was for an initial period of two years with a rent of “ a Pepper Corne” and a proviso that John build a “Mansion House or Houses” thereupon. Thereafter he was granted the premises for a term of a further 51 years at an annual rent of £3. 4s. The property (seen on a map of 1828 as No 19) was not mentioned in his will of 1745 and one presumes he sold on the lease to help finance other investments, possibly the mining activities. Queen Square became a fashionable residential site at once and John, no doubt, made a good profit on his enterprise.

Queen Square map 1828 copy

Detail of Ashmead’s map of 1828

It is fascinating to see that John had adapted so quickly to the demands of the new age. Brick and stone had rapidly replaced wood as the pricipal building materials and the carpenter’s manual job was reduced to providing joists and roof timbers, yet along with many others, John had transformed himself into what we would now call a builder and developer.

Queen Square 1827 painting
Queen Square, painted in 1827 and showing the south-east corner. The house built by John Horwood is on the extreme left, beneath the tower of St Mary Redcliffe

Following the death of his father-in-law, John Heale in 1710, John Horwood appears to have taken over the property and land at Chew Magna which was bequeathed to his three daughters in John Heale’s will. It is possible that he spent time there on occasion, and certainly his daughters are described as “of Chew Magna” in various documents. Only the eldest, Mary ever married. The wedding, to Robert Peters, a yeoman of Chew, took place in 1713 at Wells Cathedral by Licence, and with her father’s consent. For a Quaker, marrying before an Anglican priest in “a steeple church” was a cause for expulsion from the Society, so possibly the couple married well away from their home parish to avoid any complications for both the newlyweds and the bride’s father.

On the 1st November 1744 John Horwood drew up his will. There are substantial cash bequests to his eight Peters grandchildren (£50 a piece on marriage, if such marriage is approved by his daughters!) and the two properties he holds in Chew in his wife’s name are left to his two grandsons, John and Robert Peters junior. He bequeaths two Bristol freehold properties to his youngest daughters: a house in St James Square to Elizabeth and a house in Merchant Street jointly to Elizabeth and Margaret.

It is interesting that Margaret, the youngest (albeit aged about 54) receives nothing individually. His household goods in Chew are left to daughter Elizabeth, and in Bristol mainly to granddaughter, Elizabeth Peters, who presuambly lived with him, as he refers to the “Bedd and all that belongs to it which my Granddaughter Elizabeth Peters now lyes on”. He is scupulous in arranging matters so that his grandchildren benefit in the long run so long as they do not go against the wishes of their mother and aunt. It therefore seems to be the case that he moved between houses in Bristol and Chew, and although he leaves no property in Chew Magna to his second daughter, Elizabeth, we shall see that she describes herself in the following year as “Of Chew Magna”. John also bequeaths the profits of his “Five Eighths in Ventures” – no doubt his mining interests – equitably; two eighths to daughters Elizabeth & Margaret jointly; two eighths to the grandchildren jointly and one eighth to daughter Mary Peters.



John died on 17th or 18th April 1745 and was buried in the Quaker Burial Ground at Redcliff on the 19th. The certificate shows that he died “att his house on Redclift Hill” – one not mentioned in his will, so presumably it was rented.

Redcliffe Hill

Redcliff Hill in the late 1700s

However much John Horwood, in his will, hoped to divide his estate fairly between his daughters and grandchildren, a series of unforseen events was to complicate this. He had named his daughter Elizabeth sole executrix and, although she presumably carried out the provisions of the will as probated, what resulted from her actions was to provide a sad coda to the story of the Horwood family.

Within a month of John’s death three of his Peters granddaughters married, and were given £50 each as stipulated in the bequest. The executrix, Elizabeth Horwood then converted the remaining £250 which was “at Interest” with a Bristol currier, Stephen Stone into a bond with Stone, but in her own name. Has Elizabeth lived longer, no doubt all would have been resolved as the remaining Peters children married in their turn. However it would appear that she died suddenly on November 25th 1746. She had attended the marriage of her neice, Elizabeth Peters to Anthony Lawrence at the Quaker Meeting House in Bristol in April of that year, signing as a witness, and on August 7th she made her will, yet something very odd seems to have occurred. Her will states that she was “of Chew Magna”, yet her death is recorded in the Castle Precincts in Bristol. Even stranger, her sister Margaret died there the same day. They were both buried at Redcliffe on 26th November.

Burial of Margaret Horwood 1746

Margaret Horwood is a shadowy figure – her birth was not recorded in the Quaker Registers, and whenever she features as the beneficiary in a will, it is normally not as an individual, but as a sharer in an annuity or property bequest. It may be that she was handicapped in some way and not considered able to look after her own interests, unlike her two elder sisters.

With the deaths of Elizabeth and Margaret the narrative of our family story properly moves on to the Peters family, but I shall deal with the consequences of Elizabeth’s actions here. Unlike her father, Elizabeth obviously had her favourites among her nephews and neices. Of the two freehold houses in Bristol, the St James Square property was left to Elizabeth Lawrence, nee Peters, the eldest grandchild of John Horwood; on Elizabeth’s death in 1762 it would have passed into the hands of her widower. The Merchant Street house was left to sister Margaret for her life, and thereafter to Robert Peters, the youngest grandson of John Horwood. Was it assumed Margaret would not be able to make a will of her own? There were a few cash bequests to others (kinsmen and servants possibly), but the remainder, including the house and property in Chew Magna and all her goods was left to her neices Hester Edgell and Margaret Pow, whom she appointed joint executrices. No mention is made of Elizabeth’s sister, Mary Peters, nor of Mary’s other children, Mary, John, Martha or Frances. Hester and Margaret were the third and fourth daughters of Robert and Mary Peters, and the actions of these two sisters, along with their husbands would lead to a family dispute that would end in the Court of Chancery. But that belongs to the story of the Peters family.

Horwood family tree jpeg


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Stephen Bumstead

I'm retired and live in Devon, England. I have been researching my family for forty years and am also the OPC (online Parish Clerk) for Chewton Mendip in Somerset. I have helped transcribe registers for FreeReg and wills for Oxfordshire FHS.

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