What’s in a name?

A few notes on the Mitchell/Witchell family

St Mary the Virgin, Wotton

The church of St Mary the Virgin, Wotton under Edge

Among my ancestors are George Mitchell and his son, Henry who both lived in Bath and Bristol at various times, yet hailed from south Gloucestershire. On Census returns Henry gave his place of birth as either Wotton under Edge or Uley whereas George always stated Wotton. Evidence as to the birth or baptism of Henry (around 1819) has proved elusive, and  there is no record of a George Mitchell  (about 1795) being baptised in Wotton either. Other descendants of this family have indicated that George might be the George Witchell, son of  John and Mary who was baptised in 1803; at first this seemed doubtful to me as the ages that George gives in the Census don’t fit. However, on examining the parish records, which have recently become available online it now appears to be the case. Against the baptismal record dated February 23rd 1803 the entry gives a birthdate of May 3rd 1794, which exactly fits  the Census ages.

1816 marriage George Mitchell Uley copy

I have only one example of George’s signature, on the occasion of his marriage to Harriet Moore at Uley in 1816, and it clearly shows his surname as Mitchell. However a witness to that marriage was George’s sister, Lavinia and her signature is ambiguous; it could read either Mitchell or Witchell, and at her own wedding in 1820 (with the identical signature) the incumbent has certainly described her as Lavinia Witchell. To complicate matters, at the baptism of George and Harriet’s eldest child, Elizabeth the following year, the name has reverted to Witchell. Was there a conscious changing of spelling, I wonder? It is of interest that George’s son Henry signs Mitchell on his marriage certificate but I am told that when he witnessed his son-in-law’s will in 1883 the signature reads Henry Witchell.

The parish registers of Wotton under Edge are, in the main, well kept and full; there are one or two missing years, but these can often be filled using the Bishop’s Transcripts. The later years of the Commonwealth are patchy, as is often the case, with obvious gaps and poor script at times. The Witchell family and its connections inhabited the town for many centuries so it is possible to take them back almost as far as the beginning of the registers in 1571. My reconstruction of the line is to be found on my complete tree on Heredis and commences with a William Witchell whose birth would appear to be c1590 (as yet not found). Of interest are the two Williams who were the son and grandson of this individual.

We know a little more about William Witchell (1621-1683) than the others of the family as he and his widow both left wills. It is quite likely that most of the family were involved in the cloth trade in one way or another, as this was the dominant industry in Wotton. William, in his will states that he was a clothier, that is a trader in the material rather than being involved in the process of woollen weaving, treating or dying. Sadly his will does not have an inventory of his possessions, and after the usual cash bequests to his children and grandchildren he left everything to his widow. The probate document records his estate as being in value £96 6s 4d. He had married Jane Brunkett, the daughter of Edward Brunkett, a tailor (whose will also exists) in 1646, and the will of Jane (who died in 1694) also survives, together with an inventory. The Witchell household was not a substantial one, although much (including property) may have already been passed on to the children. What remains is obviously the personal property of Jane and includes a flock bed and its appurtenances, a table board and a chest and two coffers; also assorted brass iron and pewter, the whole coming to about £7 in value. In addition she has £3 5s worth of clothes and £200 in ready money. So the family was fairly prosperous. In both wills sons are given nominal sums (£10 each from each parent) and were expected to make their own way in the world; the bulk of the cash and belongings was left, as was normal, to the daughters, especially unmarried daughters. The sons may have inherited business interest of course.

The other figure worth mentioning is William and Jane’s eldest son, another William. He is certainly a man of mystery. He can be identified firstly from his parents’ wills, and secondly as the father of various children he had baptised at St Marys. The names of his children tie in with the names in William senior and Jane’s wills when referring to their grandchildren. However, I can find no baptism for him, no marriage and no burial in Wotton under Edge. He was most likely born in the early 1650s when the registers are a problem, and he could well have married outside the parish, but his missing burial is odd. He was still alive in 1704 when a grandson of his is buried, and the father of the child is referred to as “William Witchell jnr.”. As no marriage has been found for him, and the register at this time does not record mother’s names at baptism, we do not know the name of his wife, although it is likely she is the “Anne, wife of William Witchell” who was buried in 1710; William junior had a wife Anne, but the couple were to have more children after this date, so it cannot be her. There is a burial of a William Witchell in 1721, but if this is him, there is no burial apparent for William junior.


Mean Streets

The nave of St Mary the Virgin. The Georgian rebuilding (1777-1781) created a remarkably airy and spacious interior. Note the oak box pews.
St Marys, Tetbury

A first blog

Until now I’ve used this site merely as a useful way of recording and broadcasting episodes in the lives of my ancestors; but today I shall embark on a genuine blog, if I understand the term correctly. What follows are the puzzled ramblings of a family historian on the main problem facing all genealogists: proof.

It has been stated that at least two independent sources for a fact are required to assume it is correct, and the more the better. When tracing a direct line I have always tried to stick with this, although the further back one progresses, the harder it is to find a second source for any relationship. If a baptism occurs in the right parish at the right time and there is no conflicting evidence – such as family with similar names in the same locality or surrounding parishes – then that is often as much as one can hope for, especially if one is dealing with a family that owned no property nor left any wills or other documentation.

When one comes against a genuine brick wall, where even an expected record is missing, the question is: how to proceed and what to accept as being the most probable fact. Can one indeed accept a theory because there is enough information that points to a likely outcome even though the evidence is not there?

George Street & Elizabeth Rousom marriage 1824
Which brings me to my ggg grandfather, George Street, who died in St James parish, Bristol in 1868. The earliest record I have found for George is this marriage, on January 28th 1824 to Elizabeth Rousom, which took place at the Church of St Philip & St Jacob, Bristol and both parties possessed fine, clear signatures. It would seem, by using the information they gave in later years in the various Censuses, that George was about 19 years old at the time of his marriage and Elizabeth possibly a year or so older. They also identify their respective places of birth in the same records. Elizabeth hailed from Dublin in Ireland, and George was born in Tetbury, Gloucestershire. Their union produced seven children, three girls and four sons who were duly baptised in the Catholic chapel of St Josephs in Trenchard Street.

Many years ago, having found most of this information, I visited the Record Office in Gloucester to continue my research on the Street family, and hopefully find a baptism for George. Despite discovering a good deal about the family, from the registers and other documentation, the expected baptism was not to be found. There was no George Street in either the baptismal register nor in the Bishops Transcripts – the copy that was sent to the Diocesan Office every year. There was however, a possible family for George.

John Street and his wife, Sarah (nee Cave) had married at St Marys, Tetbury (full name, the Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin and St Mary Magdalene) on 7th May 1799 and from then until Sarah’s untimely death in 1808, had seven children baptised there. The Cave family originated in Owlpen, a few miles to the northwest of Tetbury, but Sarah’s father John had taken on a farm in the village of Long Newnton, now in Gloucestershire, but then in Wiltshire, which lies just a mile to the east of the town. By contrast, John’s father Thomas (like John himself), was a cordwainer (shoemaker) living in Lacock, Wiltshire, although his mother, Martha Hawkes was born in Tetbury and had siblings still living there. John and Sarah’s seven children arrived (judging by their baptismal dates) with almost mathematical regularity, which was not uncommon at the time, beginning with Thomas (1800) and continuing with John (1801) Hannah (1802) William (1803); a break then occurs until the baptism of Philip Cave (1806) Robert (1807) and finally Sarah, whose birth in August 1808 probably led to the death of her mother Sarah in September; baby Sarah followed the following month and was buried with her mother in Long Newnton churchyard.

Cave & Street grave crop

At first, I found the gap in the baptisms of John and Sarah’s children significant. It could be, of course that Sarah had simply been ill or unwilling to have further children after William in 1803, but it seemed more likely to me that George had been born in the gap and either his baptism was missed from the register or that he had been baptised elsewhere. Baptisms were missed from registers (another ancestor, James Emery of Ashwick in Somerset was a parish clerk and on two occasions the vicar wrote in the registers admonishing James for his errors and omissions in the recording of entries) and the register at Tetbury shows clearly that it was not written up on a daily or even a weekly basis – as was common, it would have compiled, possibly once a year from notes made at the time of the various ceremonies; there was plenty of scope for an entry to be missed.

I searched further for a baptism for George, at first in the other parishes connected to the families, Owlpen, Long Newnton and Lacock, and then in the surrounding parishes to Tetbury; modern databases have enabled me to search Bristol and the whole of Gloucestershire, but to no avail. Assuming the period between the births and the baptisms of the Street children to be more or less uniform, we find the gaps between them to be 15, 14, 14, 33, 13 and 12 months. By analysing the ages given by George in the Census and the age on his death certificate, a birth date of April-June 1805 is arrive at. This fits almost exactly in the middle of the period of 33 months between William and Philip; this was the first coincidence that might justify assuming George belonged to the Tetbury Streets.

The second fact which reinforces the idea that George was the son of John and Sarah was discovered when researching Bristol marriage records. On 22nd May 1824, at the church of St James in Bristol, the eldest son of John and Sarah Street, Thomas, married Mary Stockham of Lea in Wiltshire.

Thomas Street Marriage 1824

This was four months after the wedding of George and Elizabeth, and it can clearly be seen that they witnessed this marriage. In addition the manner in which both George and Thomas formed the name “Street” is eerily similar. This must indicate that the two men were close, even if not brothers – but no other option seems likely. There were no other Street families in Tetbury (or nearby) at the time of George’s birth, and the name “George” itself was never used by the Lacock Streets, whereas it was regularly used in the Cave family. Thomas and Mary called their second son George and another brother used it for one of his children too. Furthermore, it is surely significant that George was, by trade a slipper maker. Of all of John and Sarah’s children, none followed their father and grandfather into the occupation of shoemaking and it would seem odd if at least one of the children was not apprenticed to their father at some stage.

Several members of the Street family moved to Bristol in the years following and most of them lived, at least for a time in St James, where George and Elizabeth appear to have spent their whole married lives. Another son of John and Sarah, Philip Cave Street lived in central Bristol, marrying twice and finally being buried at St James (although both his marriages and the baptism of a daughter took place in other churches). Again interestingly, Philip’s second wife was a widow, Jane Lee whose father’s name on the marriage certificate (1843) is given as Evan Francis. In the 1841 Census an Evan Francis is the next-door neighbour to George Street in Cannon Street, St James.

Well, this blog turned into an article after all, but have I convinced myself? Have I convinced you? Do I accept that George was a son of John and Sarah Street of Tetbury and amalgamate all the data into my tree? Does anyone else care?

John Horwood and the 1703 Indenture


I mentioned previously in my account of the Horwood family, an Indenture of 1703 which appears to be connected to the purchase of land and properties in the parish of St James. Investigating this document further, several questions arose and I shall try and map out my ideas concerning it here. A full transcription of the document is at the foot of this article.

1703 Indenture Angell House 1 copy

Left-hand side of the 1703 Indenture

There are two parties to the agreement, on the one side, Elizabeth Skinner, Elinor Wilkes and Anne Hawkridge, all described as widows, of Bristol; on the other side, John Harwood, House Carpenter and Rowland Thruppe, Gent., also both of Bristol. The indenture goes on to explain that its intent is for “the settling and assureing of the severall messuages, Tenements Lands and hereditaments hereinafter mentioned”. It is presuambly therefore some form of conveyance or related to such a transaction.

Before listing the properties concerned, the main purpose of the agreement is stated; that the three ladies concerned will, in the Court of Common Pleas “acknowledge and levy” a fine “Sur Conizance de droit come ceo etc.” relating to the properties to be named, and the sum of five shillings had changed hands for this benefit. Now this was no great sum even in 1703, and the whole transaction and phrasing took some time for me to fathom.

What is happening here is part of an obscure legal process of property sale, dating from the Middle Ages, whereby land was transferred from one party to another by means of a fake legal dispute. The two parties agreed the details of the sale between themselves (there is often an actual conveyance document which rarely survives) and them the selling party ask the Court via the “fine” or concord to agree that the buying party now own the property involved. The phrase (in legal French) “Sur Conizance de droit come ceo qu’il a de son done” is the surest form of fine and was often used to break an entail, if one existed on the property. A separate document would have been issued by the Court, known as a Final Concord which was in three parts, again indented, one part each for the parites and one (the “foot”) for the Court. These final concords were written in latin until 1733 and give very little detail compared to what is given in our indenture. Below is one such document, also involving John Harwood, dated 1719 and which relates to property in St Philips and St Peter parishes in Bristol.

1719 Deeds involving John Horwood (Latin)

Not only is it in latin (with many abbreviations), but it is written in an archaic legal hand which makes its reading very difficult. Final Concords also normally give very imprecise information on the property changing hands and the price paid, which is often impossible to ascertain.

To return to our indenture, which is known as a ”covenant to levy a fine” I was interested in the parties involved. John Harwood the house carpenter has been discussed at length in my article on the Horwood family; Rowland Thruppe was a wealthy Bristol gentleman, the eldest son of another Rowland Thruppe who had died in 1689. Documents at the National Archive and Bristol Record Office show him involved in many property dealings and investments, as well as disputes. One can probably assume that he and John acted together in this instance with Rowland providing the bulk of the money and John the expertise in building and development. The fact that they were buying several properties from three widows in one transaction was puzzling at first, but I assumed that the women were related. The indenture mentions two of the properties being previously owned by one Peter Hiley, and on checking the wills in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury probate records, there is one for a Peter Hiley of Bristol, whitetawer who died in 1675. A whitetawer (modern spelling whittawer) was a person who manufactured or dealt in “white” leather, using tawing rather than tanning, which involved curing the skin in various substances which produced a lighter, more flexible form of leather. It also came to be used of one who produced harness leather and saddlery.

Peter Hiley was a wealthy man, for he bequeathed four messuages in Merchant Street, as well as property in Poole, Dorset and his own house on the Weare (modern Broad Weir) to his eldest son, John; six further messuages and two gardens “att or neare the Barrs in the parish of Saint James” to his unmarried daughter Rachaell, and the remainder of his estate. including other messuages to his widow, Joan. In addition he left £400 to Rachaell and £200 to a grandson, but what is most interesting are the small cash bequests (of either £5 or 40 shillings) to his remaining children, amongst whom are Elizabeth Skinner, Ellinor Wilkes and Anne Hawkridge. So we can assume that the three widows of 1703 are selling property they inherited from another member of the family, possibly their mother Joan or sister Rachael, and the nature of the fine used to convey the properties points towards the latter, as Peter’s will directed that the bequest to Rachel should pass to the heirs of her body, ie. entailled to her line. Further research will be required to establish what happend to Rachel, and how the properties might have passed into the hands of her sisters.

Turning now to the location of the properties involved in the transaction, there appear to be four distinct entities:

1) Angell House lying east of the Horfield road (a continuation of Merchant Street, later Barrs Street)

2) Messuage to the west of the same

3) Upper Garden with a lodge, south of St James Barton, but east of the Horfield road

4) Messuage near Rosemary Lane (later Rosemary Street)

The last is the most difficult to place, yet the most interesting as the indenture suggests this was transferred from Elizabeth Skinner to John Harwood directly. The indenture reads: “all that Messuage Stable & Splott of garden grounds thereunto adjoining and belonging going out of Rosemary Lane extending backwards to a Lane called by the name of the Horse Church Yard”. The latter lane is difficult to place; at first I thought it might be conected to St James Churchyard which lay to the north side of the Horsefair, but an old lease in the BRO relates to “Horsechurchyard Lane, later Rosemary Lane” so it would seem to be a lost highway, possibly to the north of Rosemary Lane.

Millerd St James parish
St James parish from Millerd’s map 1677

Looking at the map, I would suggest that property no.1 was in Barrs Lane (the continuation north of Merchant Street which led to the Barton) on the east, no.2 on the west of the same stretch and no.3 possibly the property south of “Hobsons Garden”. It may be “Hobsons Garden” itself, as in 1642 Peter Hiley had purchased “the great messuage at the Barrs” from a William Hobson. No.4 must be off Rosemary Lane.

It is instructive to compare Millerd’s map which was drawn 25 years before the indenture, with that of Roque which is dated 1750, in order to see the nature of the expansion of development in the area.

170 Roque map St James
Roque’s map 1750

Nearly all the gardens have gone and there is some renaming of streets, for instance Newfoundland Lane has become Milk Street, and to the east of the Barton, St James Square has been built. John Horwood was involved in the construction of two houses on Queens Square just six years later, so it is quite possible that the two properties on the east of Barrs Lane (which leads south off the Barton ie. “the Horfield road”) were purchased with a view to this development which took place about this time. One further possibility is that John constructed his own dwelling house in this area, either on the site of the properties transferred in the indenture, or another purchase. He was certainly a freeholder in St James parish, appearing in the poll books for the 1720s and 1730s. The land and window tax records for the parish show him living at several addresses in the parish, but
largely, after 1720, in Milk Street.

1721 Poll Book John Horwood
1721 Poll book for St James parish

1828 Ashmead map St James

Another map (Ashmead, 1828) shows the same area, and lying between Barrs Lane and St James Square there is a timber yard. A house carpenter would certainly require a large stock of timber, so is it possible that this is the successor of John’s yard? It certainly lies adjacent to Milk Street, and John’s property there may be the one described in his will as his “ Messuage or Tenement …in St James Square”.

Barrs Street

Barrs Street, early 20th century, with St James Barton in the distance, and the entry to a timber yard on the east side

Transcription of the Indenture

This Indenture made the First day of May in the second year of our Sovereign Lady Anne by the grace of god of

England Scotland France & Ireland Queen, def of the faith … Between Elizabeth Skinner of the City of Bristoll widdow Elinor Wilkes of the same City widdow & Anne Hawkridge

of the same City widdow of the one part And John Harwood of the said City House Carpenter & Rowland Thruppe of the City aforesaid Gent of the other part Witnesseth That the said Elizabeth Skinner

Elinor Wilkes & Anne Hawkridge for the settling and assureing of the severall messuages Tenements Lands & hereditaments hereinafter mentioned To and for the severall uses intents and purposes

hereinafter limitted Expressed & declared And in consideration also of the sume of Five shillings of lawfull money of England to them in hand paid by the said John Harwood and Rowland Thruppe

The receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged They the said Elizabeth Skinner Elinor Wilkes & Anne Hawkridge Have Convenanted and granted And by those presents do for themselves

Covenant and grant to and with the said John Harwood and Rowland Thruppe their heirs & assignes That they the said Elizabeth Skinner Elinor Wilkes & Anne Hawkridge shall and will before

the end of this present Easter Terme or Trinity terme next coming before her Maties. {Majesty’s} Justices of her Court of Common Pleas at Westminster in due forme of law acknowledge and levy to the said John Harwood and Rowland Thruppe

& their heirs or to the heirs of one of them One Fine Sur Conizance de droit come ceo etc to be pursued with proclamation according to the forme of the statute in that case made and provided

of All that messuage or Tenemt heretofore commonly called or knowne by the name of the Angell House and of the garden grounds thereto adjoining and belonging with the Appurts.

heretofore in the tenure of one Richard Gernige as Tenant to Peter Hiley deceased and now of (gap with name filled in different hand) Duckett Victualler situate lying and being betweene the highway leading from the weare

towards Horfeild on or towards the East side thereof And a messuage of the said Peter Hiley heretofore in the possion of one John Duckett and now of (long gap) on or towards the

west side thereof And also of all that garden ground with a Lodge thereon heretofore built by Henry Gibbs Alderman commonly called the Upper garden situate lying and being on or towards

the South side of a place there called the Barton the said Highway leading from the Weare aforesaid towards Horfeild on or towards the east side thereof And also of all that Messuage Stable & Splott of

garden grounds thereunto adjoining and belonging going out of Rosemary Lane extending backwards to a Lane called by the name of the Horse Church Yard All which said Messuage & gardens

Lands Tenements and hereditaments are situate lying & being in the parish of St James within the Suburbs of the said City of Bristoll And of all Shops Cellars Halls Parlors

Chambers Kitchens roomths Lofts Lights wayes easements paths passages profitts comodityes advantages emoluments and Appurtanances whatsoever to the said Messuages or Tenements

gardens and premisses belonging or in any wise apperteyning or therewith or with any part or parcell thereof or with or with any part thereof as part parcell or member thereof accepted

reputed held occupyed or enjoyed And of the rents revercions remainders and services thereof By the name of Two messuages One Cottage & One Stable and three gardens with

th’ Appurtenancies in the parish of St James in the said City of Bristoll and County of the same Or by such other apt and proper names quantities or qualities As by the

Counsell learned in the Law of the said John Harwood and Rowland Thruppe shall be advised & thought fitt Which fine so as aforesaid or in any other manner to be levied and

acknowledged by and betweene the said parties to these presents or any of them And all and every other Fine and Fines already levyed or at any time hereafter to be levyed or acknowledged

by or betweene the said parties to these presents or any or other of them or by or betweene them or any or other of them and any other person or persons of the said premisses above
mencioned or any part thereof either alone by itselfe or joyntly with any other Lands or Tenements shalbe and enure and shalbe adjudged esteemed and taken to

be and enure And the said John Harwood and Rowland Thruppe and their heires & all and every other person or persons standing and being seized or which at the time of

perfecting the said Fine or Fines shall stand or be ……for in the said premisses above mencioned or any part thereof shall at all times thereafter stand and be seized thereof and

of every part and parcell thereof with th’appurtenancies To and for the severall uses intents and purposes now ………. tted expressed and declared (that is to say) .. for and

concerning the said Messuage Stable and garden ground going out of Rosemary Lane aforesaid with th’Appurtenances and the rents revercions remainders and services

thereof To the only proper use and behoofe of the said Elizabeth Skinner her heirs and assignes for ever And as for and concerning All and singular other the

said messuages Tenements and premisses above particularly mencioned with th’Appurtenancies To the only proper use and behoofe of the said John Harwood his heirs

and Assignes for ever And to or for none other use intent or purpose whatsoever In Witness whereof the parties first above named to these present Indentures interchangeably

have sett their hands and seales the day and year first above written:
Elizabeth Skinner Eliner Wilks Ann Hawkredg John Harwood Row Thruppe

Note: one or two words missing as damaged in fold of parchment


1703 Indenture Angell House John Horwood signature

All maps documents and photographs courtesy of Bristol Record Office and Museums