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



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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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