Back to 1500 – bring on the Middle Ages


St Mary the Virgin, Shipton under Wychwood

As one delves deeper into family history, the burden of proof on a fact or relationship necessarily loosens. Whereas the nineteenth century is fairly rich in documentation that can back up the basic assumptions and give a sheen of truth (paternity always remains a theory!), the records of the eighteenth century and earlier must too often force one to give way to the presumption of “most probable” or even “possible”.

In a previous article (here) I gave my reasoning for the identification of the Richard Burson who died at High Cogges in 1725 with the individual of the same name who was born in Milton under Wychwood in 1643 and had his children baptised at St Mary the Virgin, Shipton under Wychwood from 1670 to 1696. I feel the evidence is strong and almost falls into the category “proven”. With this in mind I have attempted to trace this line back further, and through the female line I have been more successful than I dared hope.


Marriage of William Burson and Katherine Careles 1587

The parents of Richard Burson were William and Joan (nee Hobby) who married at St Mary’s, Shipton (where all the following details are recorded in the parish register) on November 23, 1629. They had five children baptised in Shipton, Richard being the youngest. Apart from his being a churchwarden for the village of Milton under Wychwood (part of Shipton parish) in 1669, I have so far been unable to find out little more about William. He is recorded as having signed (or marked) the Protestation of 1641, along with his brother, Thomas and nephew, Richard. He died in 1674, and his wife Joan had died five years previously. He was the son of another William Burson who had married Katherine Careles in 1587. The parish register entry (above) records that William came from the parish of Willersey “in Worstershire” – it is now in Gloucestershire and may always have been, but it is very close to the county boundary. Sadly the registers there do not survive before 1600 and it may be impossible to take the Burson line back much further. There are some Burson wills for Willersey, and that of John Burson in 1579 mentions the testator’s youngest son, William who is bequeathed 50/-. Without the registers to confirm whether or not William is mentioned again, it is difficult to be certain that this is the same individual. We do know that the William who heads the Milton line was a carpenter, as this is stated at the baptism of his son, Thomas, and when he died in 1623, he left a will with bequests to his two sons, William and Thomas and the remainder of his estate to his wife, Katherine. The inventory of his goods values the estate at £7 18s 4d.


The mark of William Burson on his will of 1623

Turning to Joan Hobby, her baptism is recorded at St Marys on November 14, 1602, where her father is named as Thomas Hobby of Shipton. Thomas had married Barbara Smith in 1591 and the register of St Marys describes him as “of Camden”, which I take to be Chipping Campden in Gloucestershire. Like Willersey the registers of Chipping Campden do not survive for this period (they commence in 1616) so we cannot take Thomas’ line any further back. He and Barbara had a son, also named Thomas and eight daughters. Thomas junior is probably the individual who appears in the registers of Ascott under Wychwood from 1621, and at least two other daughters married in Shipton, besides Joan. Thomas Hobby senior served as churchwarden there in 1595 and 1610-1.


Marriage of Thomas Hobby and Barbara Smith 1591

I have a had more success with the Smith family from which Barbara hailed. Despite there being several Smith families in Shipton at this period, it is possible to trace some of the lines. Barbara was christened in 1568, probably the youngest child of Thomas and Alice Smith (nee Andros – most likely a local spelling of Andrews). A brother, John was baptised the day before her, but was buried on the day of Barbara’s baptism, May 2nd. It is likely that they were twins and John was baptised in a hurry as he was sickly from birth. Thomas served as churchwarden of Shipton (the family, like the Hobbys always appear as residents of Shipton) in 1585 and at his burial in 1587 he is described as a “freehoulder”. He too left a will but no inventory survives so we cannot be sure of his economic status. He was certainly fairly prosperous though. He left money bequests to his two surviving unmarried daughters, Denys (spelt Deans in the will) and Barbara (spelt Barrbrowe) of £13 6s 8d each, to be payed when they married or attained the age of 23. He also left bequests to his son, Rafe (Ralph), his two sons-in-law, Rafe Brayne and Richard Cooke (who belonged to a wealthy butcher family) as well as to his eight grandchildren who mostly received “on shype” – one sheep. There are also bequests for the children of his brother, Richard as well as his “best coote …..and brychys” for Richard himself.

The mention of his brother and the names of his children make it possible to take the line back one further generation, perhaps. Although the parish register of St Marys, Shipton under Wychwood commence in 1538 and are fairly complete, if a little muddled in places, there are infuriating periods when the parentage of children being baptised is not given; so one has “Christened Elizabeth Smith” and the date. To add to the confusion, there was certainly another pair of brothers in Shipton named Thomas and Richard Smith. These are often distinguished however, by the addition of “Mr.” or “gent” or “servant to Sir Edward Unton” (the lord of the manor of Shipton at the time), whereas Barbara’s family are normally “of Shipton”.

There is the will of one Nicholas Smith who was buried in Shipton on August 6 1562, in which he leaves the bulk and remainder of his estate to his son, Richard. There are however, two bequests to Rafe Smith and Jane Smith, the children of Thomas. There is no mention of a relationship, but they come at the head of the list of legacies and it must be assumed that Thomas is another son and the children mentioned, Nicholas’ grandchildren. In 1561, Barbara’s father, Thomas Smith would have had just the two children – Rafe and Jane. These names do not seem to repeated in any other of the Smith families in Shipton. It is possible that Nicholas fell out with Thomas, but was minded to remember his grandchildren, or it may just be that Thomas inherited the land tenancies whilst Richard did not share in them.


Marriage of Thomas Smith and Alice Andros

Thomas Smith had married Alice Andros on November 18,  1548, and at his burial in 1587 it is noted that he was “allmost or about 60 yeare oulde”. This would place his birth around 1527, so it is more than likely that Nicholas, if indeed he was Thomas’ father, would have been born very close to 1500. In the Victoria County History of the parish of Shipton under Wychwood (not yet published but available in draft online) there is mention of one of the sokemen (a class of free tenant of a manor) of Shipton, Nicholas Smith, who held c170 acres of manorial land in 1547. A study of the manorial court records of Shipton may deliver the answer to the descent of the Smith family and could possibly take the line back into the 15th century or before.


Ilustrations courtesy of the Oxford History Centre.
I have standarised the spellings for clarity’s sake – Smith often occurs as Smythe in the registers, and Hobby as Hobbie.
I am in the process of transcribing the three wills mentioned and they will appear in due course on the OHFS transcribed wills site (here)


Oxfordshire Cousins


St Mary the Virgin, Shipton under Wychwood


My ancestor John Flexney, blanketweaver of Witney married Sarah Burson at the Quaker Meeting House on Wood Green, Witney on November 26th 1723. The certificate shows that Sarah was the daughter of Richard Burson (here spelt Bussen) a wheelwright of High Cogges. Among the witnesses were her sister Alice and brother George, as well as John’s parents, John and Ann. There is also the signature of a William Roach with those of other relations. Six years later, Sarah’s sister Alice was to marry here too, her husband being one Henry Partlot (Partlett) of Northleigh.

I have been unable to find any further details of this Burson family in the past, but now, with the publication of the Oxfordshire Parish Registers on the internet, it is possible to see connections and relationships that I was not previously aware of.

The Burson family in Oxfordshire were mainly concentrated in the parish of Shipton under Wychwood close to the border with Gloucestershire. They seem to have arrived in the area (possibly from Gloucestershire) in the late 16th century and there were several Richards around the middle part of the 17th century who I had noted, but couldn’t previously link with the one in Cogges. The breakthrough came in linking the entries in the registers with the names contained in the wills of Richard of Cogges (died 1725 – for a transcript click here) and his son George (Sarah’s brother) in 1760 (for a transcript click here). In Richard’s will he names sons, William, George, John and Joseph as well as daughters Alice and Sarah Burson and their married sisters Anne Roach and Rachel Knighton. He also leaves bequests to a daughter-in-law, Mary Burson, a son-in-law, James Shailor, a granddaughter, Jane Hanks and others. There are other relations mentioned in the will of his son, George; his sister, Susannah Bunting then deceased, a niece Jane Harwood, some Burson nephews and several others bearing the names of Parlett, Hanks and Flexney, the latter including his sister, Sarah. What is also interesting in George’s will is that he leaves bequests to the poor of the parishes of both Cogges and Shipton as well as property in Shipton and Milton under Wychwood (a village in Shipton parish). The bulk of his estate is left to Henry Parlett, the son of his sister, Alice.

Having all these family names I began to check them against the registers of Shipton under Wychwood. There was a Richard Burson (born 1642, the son of William and Joan) whose childrens’ baptisms are recorded in the the period 1670-1696. The names listed there are Richard, Ann, William, Elizabeth, Mary, John, Rachel, George, Joseph, Susannah and Alice. This corresponds so closely to the names in the Cogges wills that I assume the Shipton Richard and the Cogges Richard are one and the same. The anomalies are easily explained – the eldest son, Richard is the individual who married Mary Holland (the daughter-in-law of Richard’s will) and died in 1721. Elizabeth I cannot find, but there is a baptism of Sarah Burson recorded on March 12, 1688/9; however, the father is recorded as Will: (William). There was a William Burson whose children were being baptised around this period, but in fact there is a christening of a son of this William just under 6 months after that of Sarah – on September 8, 1689. I believe that the clerk had made an error in the register (which were often written up from rough notes every year) and the father should be Richard. Although this is supposition, we do know that this Richard did have a daughter named Sarah, and no further evidence of a daughter of William is noted after this.

Apart from the similarity of the names recorded in the wills and registers there is, I believe, more evidence to give weight to the idea that the two Richard Bursons are identical. If one looks at the details of the lives of Richard’s children (where we can find them) there are other striking coincidences. I would suggest that Richard spent most of his life at Milton under Wychwood, having all his children baptised at St Marys, Shipton and then at some date, probably in the late 17th century, moved to Cogges where he purchased a house and leasehold estate from William Blake, a wealthy wool merchant who had established schools in the parish and had built the Buttercross in Witney. He also bought land at Bernard Gate, a small hamlet to the east of Cogges.


St Mary’s, Cogges

Ann Burson was baptised at Shipton in 1671, the daughter of Richard Burson of Milton. In 1709 she married William Hanks of Lyneham, another hamlet of Shipton parish and their eldest child, Jane was born there the following year. William died in 1711 leaving his wife “great with child” according to his will, and when a son was born he was baptised William in 1712. Ann must have married again at some point in the next nine years for in her father’s will written in 1721, Richard leaves bequests to his granddaughter Jane Hanks, and his sister, Ann Roach. I believe that Ann’s new husband was William Roach of Cogges; a burial there in 1743 gives “Anne wife of William Roach”. Although aged 68 at the time, William married within the year, and his will of 1757 mentions Jane Harwood his “daughter-in-law”. Now a daughter-in-law as we would understand the term would have the same surname as her father-in-law, but the expression was commonly used at the time to indicate a step-daughter. Jane Harwood (who we shall return to) is the Jane Hanks of Richard Burson’s will. In the will of George Burson, Jane Harwood is a legatee as well as the five children of “my nephew William Hanks” – Jane’s younger brother. When Jane married Thomas Harwood in 1732, she is described as “of Cogges”, so was presumably living with her mother, now Ann Roach.

Richard’s fifth child, Mary Burson married James Shaylor (or Shailer etc.) in 1708 in the parish church at Waterstock near Thame. I can find no evidence as to why they married there, but in the register both parties are described as “of Shipton in the parish of Milton” – the clerk got the two village names reversed. I believe Mary is the individual whose burial on April 12, 1715 is recorded in the Shipton register. In Richard Burson’s will a bequest is left to his son-in-law, James Shailer, and in George’s there is a similar bequest to his nephew Henry Shayler, presumably Mary and James’ child.

Richard’s daughter Susannah was baptised in Shipton in 1693. When she married Henry Bunting at Witney in 1719, she is described as “of Cogges” which lends further evidence to the family having moved there. Strangely Richard does not name her in his will, but George leaves a bequest to his sister, Susannah Bunting.

Finally Alice, the youngest of Richard’s children, baptised at Shipton in 1696 was married, as we have seen above, to Henry Parlett at the Witney Quaker Meeting House in 1729, giving Richard as her father on the certificate. Her son, another Henry was the main legatee of George Burson, receiving the bulk of his estate and all his property in Cogges, Milton and Shipton.

I think there is enough evidence to be sure that the Richard Burson who was born in 1642 and had twelve children baptised at St Marys, Shipton under Wychwood, is the same individual who later lived at High Cogges and died in 1725, having made his will four years earlier. However, there are one or two caveats. The first concerns the baptism of a daughter Sarah (my ancestor) which I think I have settled above, Even if the baptism of 1689 is not correct, we know that Richard did indeed have a daughter of that name who married John Flexney in 1723. Secondly, I cannot find a marriage for Richard and his wife Jane anywhere in Oxfordshire or Gloucestershire, and neither can I find a burial for either of them, although assuredly Richard had died prior to July 1725 when probate of his will was granted to his son, William. One final interesting point is the age at which several of Richard’s daughters married – Ann at 38, Mary at 32, Sarah at 34 and Alice at 33. For the time, this is surprisingly older than the norm.

I have at several times mentioned Jane Hanks, the granddaughter of Richard Burson. She was born at Lyneham in 1710 and baptised at Shipton on July 23rd.

Following her father’s death in 1711 her mother, Ann remarried and Jane and her younger brother, William (born posthumously) lived in the household of her step-father, William Roach, an “Ale Draper” (an archaic expression for a publican) of Cogges. It may well be that Ann moved into her father’s house at Cogges in the first place and that was how she met her new husband. Jane, who had recieved a bequest of £5 in her grandfather’s will (a considerable sum in this context as her mother Ann only recieved 1/-) married Thomas Harwood at St Marys, Witney on August 28, 1732 when, as we have seen she was living at Cogges. The family seem to have settled in Witney and had ten children baptised at St Marys, the youngest being Hannah in 1756. Jane was left another £5 in the will of her uncle George following his death in 1760. George had also left £5 to a nephew of his, Edward Flexney, who was the youngest son of his sister, Sarah and John Flexney. So Jane Harwood and Edward Flexney were first cousins. It is interesting that Hannah Harwood was to marry a Richard Flexney in 1778 and although on the Licence and in the register of St Marys, Richard describes himself as “of Newbury”, I have always assumed he was the son of Edward, born in 1756 and baptised in 1759 (the family previously being Quakers). It would seem odd that someone from Newbury would marry a Witney girl without a strong connection between the families – there were no Flexneys in the Newbury area at the time – and the fact that Richard and Hannah might be cousins adds weight to the theory that Richard was indeed the son of Edward Flexney.


Document images courtesy of OFHS