Now that’s what I call a Parish Register!

Lower Lamb St.

Lamb Street, St Augustine’s, Bristol

I thought I had reached another, all too frequent, brick wall in my research concerning my Gibbs/Street ancestors when I got back to Charles and Mary Gillard, the grandparents of Martha Ann Gillard who married George Street in 1863. The Gillard family lived in Lamb Street, close to Bristol Cathedral and Charles was a wheelwright. I could find no marriage for them in Bristol and judging by the registers of St Augustine the Less, the first child who was baptised there was Mary Ann (1808) followed by John (1810 – Martha Ann’s father) and five further children. So it was safe to assume they had married c1805-7.

Charles died in February 1851, maddeningly just a few weeks prior to the Census of that year which was the first to record places of birth. Mary however lived for another four years and the Census tells us that she was born in Oakhill in Somerset around 1783. Searching for a marriage of a Charles Gillard to a Mary I found one at St Peter and St Pauls, Shepton Mallet dated October 29 1805; “Mary Tapscot of this parish, spinster to Charles Gillard of the parish of Ashwick, sojourner”. Now this looked a real possibility as Oakhill is a village, indeed the main settlement, in the parish of Ashwick and it could be that Mary had moved to Shepton to work, or briefly stayed there to gain residency, and Charles was working and living in Ashwick, but came from elsewhere. Further researches found the baptism of “Mary dafter of Jacob and Martha Tapcut” on December 22nd 1781 at the church of St. James in Ashwick. I later found that Jacob and Martha became members of the Presbyterian congregation in the village, so perhaps that was why Mary married in a different parish, to avoid parental displeasure or embarrassment.

 

Parish_Church_of_St_Peter_and_St_Paul,_Shepton_Mallet_-_geograph.org.uk_-_378435

St Peter and St Paul, Shepton Mallet

All of this was speculation and I could find no further trace of Charles in surrounding parishes, nor any baptism in the whole of Somerset or Bristol that fitted. But the marriage suited the dates of the baptisms in Bristol, even if the gap between it and the baptism of Mary Ann at St Augustines was greater than normal. The problem of Charles and his origins was put aside for some time until I tried to research the Tapscotts further, and carrying out a search for Jacob Tapscott on a genealogical website, I was directed to an entry in the parish register of Henstridge in the south of the county. I was doubtful at first as Henstridge lies so far to the south that is is almost completely surrounded by Dorset parishes. Here however was the record of the baptism of James and Elizabeth, twins born July 26th and baptised September 14th 1806. There are two registers recording the same details for this period – one with rather better spelling than the other, but there is no clue as to which is the original and which the copy; in one each baptismal entry is separate and the other combines both children. The more legible entry reads:

James/Elizabeth twins son & daughter of Charles Gillard (who was son of Thomas Gillard Flaxdresser of this parish & Mary his wife) & Mary his wife (who was daughter of Jacob Tapscott Worsted Comber of Oakhill, Somerset & Martha his wife) born July 26th baptised September 14th 1806.

Baptism James and Elizabeth Gillard 1806

What we wouldn’t give to have more Parish Registers as full as this one. Not only the grandparents of the children, but the parish and occupation of the grandfathers too. For some reason the clerk or vicar only made this type of entry between 1802 and 1812. Before that there is the formulaic “John son of John and Mary Surname” and after the regular printed forms that commenced in 1813. In some cases he plainly didn’t know the details and left the space blank, but obviously tried to record all the information he could glean.

So this entry makes clear that we have the correct marriage for Charles and Mary and Mary’s parentage; in the Ashwick records Jacob is described as a Woolcomber (worsted is one of the two main techniques of wool combing) and Mary’s place of birth in the 1851 Census confirms we have the correct person.

Colonial Wool Comber Painting; Colonial Wool Comber Art Print for sale

So what of Charles and his family?

The parish register at Henstridge records just one baptism for Thomas and Mary Gillard, a son William who was christened there on October 11, 1789. Yet we know that Charles was their son, as too was a John whose eldest son, George was baptised at Henstridge in 1804 where the details of John’s parents are given in the same detail as Charles’. All of John Gillard’s other children were born in the village of Horsington, just to the north of Henstridge but baptised at Nether Compton. This village lies to the west of Henstridge, close to Yeovil,  and so much does the county boundary meander in this area that Melbourne Port in Somerset and Sherborne in Dorset lie between them.

Map Henstridge and Nether Compton

In the register of St Nicholas, Nether Compton can be found the baptism of Charles, son of Thomas and Mary Gillard, on July 15, 1781. Also baptised there are a daughter, Christian (1780) and another son, Thomas (1783). It is worth noting that both John and William are recorded as flax dressers in later documents, although William eventually enlisted in the 8th (Kings) Regiment of Foot and served from 1809 to 1827.

So we have Charles birthplace established, but there is no baptism for the eldest son, John. I cannot find one in the immediate area in either Somerset or Dorset or indeed a marriage for Thomas and Mary. However there is a marriage between a Thomas Gillard of Broadwindsor and Mary Guppey of Beaminster, which took place at St Marys, Beaminster on February 22nd 1775. A son, John was baptised at Broadwindsor on August 14th, 1776 and no further children of this marriage appear in any local registers. This date ties in exactly with John’s age in the Census of 1851 (74). The town of Beaminster which is only a little distance from Broadwindsor was a notable centre of flax growing and linen manufacture, so it is quite feasible that this is the same family who arrived in Nether Compton around 1778/9. So far, no definite trace of either Thomas or Mary’s baptism can be verified. Thomas and Mary remained in Henstridge until their deaths – Thomas in 1821 and Mary in 1836. Their ages as recorded in the burial register gives approximate birthdates of 1733 and 1752 respectively, so Thomas was about twenty years Mary’s senior. It may be that he was a widower at the time of their marriage – the register doesn’t say, only recording that Mary was a spinster. More research required!

Register entry courtesy of Somerset Heritage Centre

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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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