The Flexneys, an Oxfordshire Diaspora

Holy Trinity. WoodGreen Witney crop

Holy Trinity Church, Woodgreen, Witney

Flexney is an Oxfordshire surname with a long history, the earliest usages appearing in the thirteenth century. It also has a distinguished record, the family providing the city of Oxford with two mayors and several other officials, but by the start of the nineteenth century it had all but died out in the county. In the 1851 Census there were just five households, all of them living in Witney and all descended (with one possible exception) from Richard Flexney (1756-1803) a blanket weaver. Twenty years later not a single bearer of the surname remained in Witney and only one family, who had moved into Oxford in 1851, lived in the county. No doubt much of this was occasioned by employment factors and the availability of easy rail transport to areas where jobs were more plentiful.

St Mary Witney [10]

St Mary’s Witney

The one family whose origins are obscure were Edward and Eliza Flexney. I can find no record of Edward’a baptism (around 1813) and nothing before his marriage to Eliza Godfrey at St Mary’s, Witney on 9th July 1831 which gives any clue. He may be connected to the other Flexney families in the town, but we can’t be sure. Edward was a Woolen Spinner, no doubt working in one of the many textile factories that had developed in Witney with the gradual industrialization of the blanket making trade. The family moved to Yorkshire at some time in the 1850s, possibly to find work in the rapidly expanding textile industry there, for Edward still gives his occupation as Woolen Spinner in the 1861 Census. Edward had died by the time of the Census ten years later, but his sons, Charles (a Cabinet Maker) and Frederick (a Stationary Engine Mechanic) both married and had families of their own. In all probablitity any Flexney alive in Britain today is descended from either this Yorkshire branch or the London branch (see below).

Returning to Witney in 1851, there were two branches of the Flexneys which were headed by a son of Richard (1756-1803), a blanketweaver. The eldest son, another Richard was a maltster and lived with his wife, Mary (nee Fords) in Swingburn Row, off Corn Street. Their only child, John was an agricultural labourer and lived at 47 High Street with his wife, Eliza (nee Austin) and their two daughters, Marlin and Mary Ann. John had joined the Royal Marines in Portsmouth in 1836, and was discharged in 1845, listed as “Branded”, presumably with “D” for deserter. In 1861, with his parents and wife having all died, John was left with four children at home – a son Edward had been born in 1852/3 and a daughter Alice in 1857. The family have been difficult to trace after this, but Edward may have been in the army before he reappears as a chimney sweep in the 1891 Census. Ten years further on he has a wife, Elizabeth and three children who were all born in Pusey, Wiltshire. I have not been able to trace them in 1911.

The younger brother of Richard Flexney the maltster, was another Edward (1795-1853) who was also a Woolen Spinner. He was my ancestor and the bulk of my research has naturally been into his family. It is remarkable that for three generations his forbears were involved in the blanket industry and yet none of his ten children, who all survived into adulthood, worked in it. In fact, with one exception, they had all left Witney by 1861 and eight of them moved outside Oxfordshire completely. Between them they exhibit all the characteristics and contradictions of the Regency, Victorian and Edwardian ages which their adult lives so neatly spanned, the eldest, Thomas being born in 1816 and Selina, the longest lived, dying in 1918. Edward had married Mary Godfrey, the illegitimate daughter of Marlin Godfrey, in 1815. He is living in Corn Street in 1841 and had moved to Wood Green by the time of the 1851 Census. He died there in 1853 and was buried in the churchyard of All Saints, Wood Green, which had just been completed.

I will treat each of his children in order and examine the themes that run through so many of their lives; musical ability and a slightly cavalier approach to marriage.


Thomas Flexney 1816-1872

The eldest son, Thomas was baptised at St Marys, Witney on January 28th 1816 and was one of the more conventional members of the family. He married Elizabeth Parmee from Curbridge, also at St Marys, on 18th April 1835, and by the time of the 1841 Census were three children in the household: Mary Ann (aged 5), Elizabeth (3) and Thomas (4 months). They were living on Corn Street, near Thomas’ parents and his occupation is “shoemaker”. He is variously described as “cordwainer” or “bootmaker” in later Censuses, but these are simple variations on the same occupation. By 1851 three more daughters are mentioned – Marlin, Emily and Mercy. The rather unusual name, Marlin, was a family one; it was the name of Thomas’ grandmother, Marlin Godfrey.

Oxford Prison

Oxford prison

On 7th August 1858 Thomas was appointed “Turnkey Trade Instructor” at the prison in Oxford. He had already been working there for the previous six weeks according to an announcement in Jackson’s Oxford Journal, and was to be paid one guinea and provided with a uniform. The necessary tools were also provided for him so that he could “engage in the duty of teaching shoemaking to eighteen convicted prisoners whose original period of imprisonment exceeded twelve months”. It was noted that Thomas, although having a different title from other warders, had to undertake the common duties of a prison warder “as occasion may require”. At the time of the appointment Thomas was still residing in Witney, but by 1861 Thomas and Elizabeth had moved to Oxford, and were living at Park End Place, St Thomas. Two final children are in evidence – Norah (born in 1851) and James Edward (1853). The family stayed in the western area of Oxford, with Thomas dying in 1872 and Elizabeth in 1885. Both their sons followed in their father’s footsteps, becoming shoemakers, and, although both married, neither seems to have had any children. On the death of James Edward in 1904, the surname was finally extinguished in Oxfordshire.

Mercy Flexney 1849 - 1891

Mercy Flexney 1849-1891


Marlin Flexney 1819-1896

West End Witney

Marlin was the eldest daughter of Edward and Mary and was named for her grandmother, Marlin Godfrey. Like Thomas she lived a fairly conventional life – perhaps the elder children were made more responsible by the necessity of their having to help with the upbringing of their siblings. By the time of the 1841 Census she too was married and living in Corn Street with her husband, Frederick Bridgman and daughter, Susan. They had been married at St Marys in 1838 and Frederick came from Charlbury, just north of Witney. His occupation is difficult to read, but it may be “bailer”, possibly working in the textile trade. In later Censuses he is “out door servant”, “general servant” and finally, “gardener”. Marlin always appears as a “dressmaker”. By 1851 they had moved to Bridge Street, and by 1861 to West End. They remained there until Marlin’s death in 1896. They had five further children after Susan – William (1842) Marlin (1845) Edward (1847) Frederick (1852) and John (1860). Frederick was a Railway Porter in 1871, living with his uncle John in Bristol. Marlin was the last Flexney to live in Witney.


Mary Ann Flexney 1823-1890

Mary Ann was born in 1823 and was still living with her parents in 1841 when the Census took place. Five years later she married John Woodcock, a widower who was then Parish Clerk and the Witney National School Master; he was sixteen years older than Mary Ann and his first wife, Fanny had died earlier in 1846, leaving John to bring up five children. It was a common occurrence for widowers (and widows) to remarry quite quickly when young children were involved and four of John’s children were under the age of ten. Within six months of their marriage they had a daughter, Mary Ann and another five children would follow in future years.

It has been impossible to find the family on the 1851 Census and we can only trace their movements by the birthplaces of the children. The second, Agnes Jane was born in Witney in 1850 and the others were all born in Bristol: Frederick Edward towards the end of 1852, Alfred (1855), Albert (1858) and finally Susannah in 1860. A presentation of a desk was made to John by the staff and pupils of St Mary Redcliffe National School at Christmas 1862, so this may suggest he had been there for ten years.

Redcliffe Parade

St Mary Redcliffe church and Redcliffe Parade – No 1 was the nearest to the church

So it seems they were the first of the family to move to Bristol, and by 1861 at least four of Mary Ann’s siblings and her mother had joined them, no doubt following the death of Edward Flexney in June 1853. Living in the same house as John and Mary Ann (1, Redcliffe Parade East) were her brothers, John and Daniel as well as her sister, Agnes. A few doors along, her mother Mary Flexney was a nurse in the household of Mary Passmore, and in Nelson Place, a row of smaller houses that backed on to Redcliffe Parade lived Mary Ann’s sister Selina.

Map Redcliffe Parade

Map of Redcliffe showing the church, Redcliffe Parade, Nelson Place and Guinea Street

As a National School teacher, John Woodcock was expected to move around the country. 1871 finds the family in Otterton, near Budleigh Salterton, in Devon, living in the School House. By the time John had retired, sometime before the 1881 Census, they had moved to Yorkshire, for in that year John appears as an Annuitant, living with Mary Ann and their daughter Susannah at 3 Edith Terrace, Symon Street, Sculcoates, near Hull. John died there in 1885 aged 78 and Mary Ann in 1890.


Edward Flexney 1825-1891

Edward is the first of the family to cause us some problems, especially in his early career. He is with his parents in Corn Street, Witney in 1841, but can’t be traced again until 1871 when he is living at 50 St Michael’s Hill, Bristol, along with four other families.

50 St Michaels Hill, Bristol (Yellow house with blue door) [2]

50 St Michaels’s Hill, the yellow house with a blue door

With him were his wife, Harriet, son Edward aged 22 and “daughter” Nelly, aged 5. Both men are described as musicians. In fact Nelly was Mary Eleanor, a niece, who was the daughter of his brother, Daniel (see below). She was at some stage taken in by Edward and Harriet and continued living with them until her marriage. Harriet Peake was born in Combe, near Woodstock in Oxfordshire and Edward and Harriet’s eldest child was Edward Harrington Flexney who was born in Salford and baptized at Manchester Cathedral on April 8th 1849. A daughter, Ellen was born in Witney in 1851 but died the following year when the family were living in James Street, Waterloo, London. However, it wasn’t until February 2nd 1853 that Edward and Harriet married, at St Nicholas, Liverpool. All the evidence points to them living in the north-west in the 1850/60s and it may be that their entries in the 1851 and 1861 Census’ were lost when much of the Manchester area data was destroyed. They appear to have had no more children.

Although he seems to have been based in the north-west of England, Edward must have travelled a good deal in his musical career. We have two announcements for performances where he participated – both in Bristol (the lack of any other venues is probably accounted for by the range of nineteenth century newspapers online). In 1853 at Forresters Music Hall in Broadmead, Fred Hargest performed “The Belle of the Hunt” and “Sarah’s Dress Rehearsal” with a cast of vocalists and dancers, together with “Full Band” of which, “Mr E Flexney, cornet” is given as one of three individual artists. On a more elevated note, the Bristol Philharmonic Society announced a performance of The Messiah on 27th December 1869 at the Colston Hall. The “Band” consisted of thirty “gentlemen amateurs” of the society along with a number of “eminent professors” from various locations – one is Mr Flexney from London: this could, of course be either father or son.

We have seen Edward and his family in 1871; by 1881 they had returned to the north-west. Edward senior was then living at 64 Bala Street, Walton, Liverpool with Harriet, Nelly (now Mary E Flexney, niece) and granddaughter, Emily, aged 2, who was the youngest daughter of Edward junior. Edward gives his occupation as “Trumpeter in RAM”. I have not been able to interpret this – it is definitely not the Royal Academy of Music and may refer to a local orchestra. In a newspaper report of his son’s death in 1902 it records that Edward senior was a member of the band of the Royal Horse Guards, and he certainly served in that regiment in what was an episodic miliatry career. He first enlisted in the Grenadier Guards in April 1858, but bought himself out at a cost of £18 in May 1861. Nearly a year later he enlisted in the RHG for a term of twelve years but is recorded as deserting in November 1863. Possibly at some time he was at the Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall, Twickenham, where his son claimed to have studied in his early life.

In 1891 the family are at 15 Venus Street, Everton – not a great distance from Bala Street; Mary Eleanor has married, Emily is with her mother (see below) and Edward is a musician. Edward died later in 1891 and Harriet in 1898.

Edward junior followed the irregular marriage habits of several of his uncles and aunts – 1881 finds him apparently with a wife, Elizabeth and three children (a fourth, Emily was with his parents as we have seen). However it seems that he never married this Elizabeth Ardern, who came from Buxton, although their two eldest children were born there. Two more were born in Manchester and a further two back in Derbyshire, but in 1891 Edward married Elizabeth Zumpf and it is she who appears as his wife in the 1891 Census, where they are visiting Gunter Grahe, a German importer who resided in Manchester. On both 1881 and 1891 Censuses Edward is given as “Professor of Music”. In 1901 Edward and Elizabeth are living at 45 West Wynford Street, Salford (Edward is now a Musical Conductor) – they do not seem to have any children and Edward died in early 1902. Between 1875 and 1898, Edward played with the Halle Orchestra, as a violinist (early in his career he gained a reputation as a celebrated cornet player like his father) and may well have been a teacher with Charles Halle’s Northern College of Music. Towards the end of his time with the Halle he was a principal violinist, leaving in 1898 to concentrate on conducting.

Halle Orchestra 1888 [6]

Halle Orchestra poster 1888 showing Edward Flexney in the second violins

Edward’s children mostly used the surname Ardern, although the eldest, Charles Edward called himself Flexney. Both Charles (a professional soldier) and his younger brother, George Ardern were killed in the First World War and had no families of their own.


Agnes Flexney 1828-1902

Agnes was still living with her parents in Witney in 1851, aged 22, occupation Dressmaker. In 1861 she was in the household at Redcliffe Parade, Bristol that contained several of her siblings (see above under Mary Ann). Now 32 and still a dressmaker, she called herself Agnes Francis, widow and there is a child in the dwelling, Agnes Flexney aged 5. We have several problems here – firstly no record of a Flexney/Francis marriage can be found; secondly the birth certificate of the child Agnes is full of contradictions; and finally there is no obvious individual who fits the information we can find about a putative father.

Agnes Flexney junior was born on 15th March 1856 at 32 Colston Street, Bedminster (which would now be called Redcliffe – between Redcliffe Hill and Temple Way). Under “name of father” we have Edward Flexney, occupation “solicitor’s clerk”. Agnes senior was the informant. She gives her name as Agnes Flexney, formerly Francis (yet in 1861 is again Agnes Francis) On the 1871 Census the younger Agnes is called Agnes Francis and when she married Edward Neale in 1878 she gives her name as Agnes Flexney Francis and her father’s as James Francis, solicitor. Did the elusive Mr Francis exist at all? I can find no individual in the Census records who fits.

Agnes senior (as Agnes Francis) married William Chipperfield Hutchings in early 1871, and on the Census that year the family are living with William’s grandparents at 14 Guinea Street, Redcliffe. Also in the household are the younger Agnes and her grandmother, Mary Flexney, listed as lodgers: Mary is listed as “annuitant”, Agnes senior as “milliner” and young Agnes Francis, aged 15 as “school teacher”. Mary was to die at 14 Guinea Street on 26th September 1878, aged 82 and was buried in the churchyard of St Mary Redcliffe. As we have seen young Agnes married Edward Neale in the same year, but William and Agnes senior continued to live at the same address until Agnes died in 1902.

14 Guinea Street {1}

Not a large house (the illustration shows Nos 13 and 14), it contained 16 people in 1871 – the numbers decrease over the years, until by 1901 there are only 8 inhabitants; but still, life must have been crowded. William and Agnes appear to have had no children together but his cousin, James Price, who also lived there had several, and there were nearly always some lodgers as well.


Charles Richard Flexney 1831-92

Witney Town Band 1850 Reproduced with the kind permission of the Witney Town Band [12]

Witney Town Band 1850

Charles Richard was baptised on 17 July 1831 at St Mary’s, Witney. Although he gives his full name on marriage certificates, he always appears as Richard on the Census records, so we can assume that this is how he was generally known. He is with his parents in 1841, but he next turns up in Wrexham, north Wales ten years later, along with his younger brother, Frederick, another Flexney (unidentified) and Robert Golding from Ireland. They are all listed as musicians and seem to be staying for the Wrexham March Fair – a major event in the area, at The Blossoms Inn, Charles Street. Their names are marked with a note explaining that they were “strangers during the annual fair” There were quite a few other musicians, entertainers and hawkers in the town at the same Census. It is possible that one or more of the brothers are in the photograph above which shows the Witney Town Band in 1850.

At some time during the 1850s Richard moved to London, where he seems to have lived for the rest of his life. On 3rd December 1857 he married Ann Goodwin at St Nicholas, Deptford and the 1861 Census has them residing at 39 Fellows Street in the district of St Marys, Haggerstone. In 1868 a daughter, Annie was born in Islington and 1871 finds the small family at 13 Curzon Street, Shoreditch. In all the records we have for him, Charles Richard is always shown as a musician. Ann worked for some time as a “dresser” at Astley’s Theatre, according to a newspaper account of a robbery in 1872. She was knocked down and clothing she was carrying home was stolen. By 1881 however a drastic change had come about. Ann is now living at 9 Wood Wharf, Greenwich with daughter Annie. She is shown as “wife”, “married” and a charwoman. Meanwhile Richard is at 2 Lower John Street, Shoreditch with a new wife – Emma. In fact he had married Emma Mason (nee Charnton) at St Thomas, Bethnal Green just two months before, on 8th February 1881. As at his first marriage, Charles Richard made a mark rather than signing. This was obviously a bigamous marriage, but it seems never to have been detected by the authorities.

There were no children from this second marriage and it may not have fared any better than the first; second wife Emma is visiting friends or relatives in Bournemouth in 1891, and Richard is on his own in lodgings in Essex Street, Haggerston. The deaths of Richard and Emma Flexney are recorded in the first half of 1892 in Shoreditch District, so it could have been a temporary seperation. Ann is to be found in 1891 living as head of household at 83 Thames Street, Greenwich – she is described as “living on her own means” in a 6 roomed house with Annie who is now married to Alfred Argent. She appears to be better off than ever before – all her residences with Charles Richard were in multi-occupation houses. She still calls herself “married” but was only to enjoy two more years of independence, dying in 1893.


Frederick Flexney 1834-90

The information we have for Frederick is very similar to that for his elder brother Charles Richard. He is on the same census records in 1841 and 1851. That he was in London by 1854 is shown by his marriage to Priscilla Minton at St Johns, South Hackney. Unlike his brother, Frederick could sign his name and rather inflates his father’s occupation to “Blanket Manufacturer”. His bride was a minor, being born in 1837, but so too was Frederick – he describes himself as “of full age”, yet was only just twenty, being born in February or March 1834. Frederick’s family life was to be more conventional than his elder brother’s. The 1861 Census finds the family at 15 Provost Street, Shoreditch, although the birthplace of the children shows a degree of movement: Priscilla Agnes (known as Agnes) Islington, 1855: Louisa, Shoreditch 1857 and Frederick Richard, Bethnal Green 1859. Over the years six more children were to follow (two of whom died in their first year) and all of them with the exception of the final child (Ann Elizabeth, born & died 1875, baptized at St Anne, Shoreditch) were baptized at St Johns, Hoxton.


The family were still in Provost Street, at No 56 in 1871, and ten years later were at 13 Bacchus Walk, just off Hoxton Road. Frederick is always described simply as “musician” and they are always the second listed family in a two family property occupation. We do not know what type of music the two brothers played – long before the days of recording there was, no doubt, a large popular demand for live musical entertainments and the East End must have had its fair share of music halls and other similar venues. It seems however, that the family did not enjoy much prosperity. On his death in November 1890 the following notice appeared in The Era, the musical and theatre newspaper of the time:

TO THE BROTHERS FLEXNEYS and MUSICIANS – I am sorry to say that poor Fred. Flexney, after a long illness, was buried last Sunday, and Smallest Donation will be thankfully received by his old Friends Jim M’Grath and Fred, Alexander to help pay for the Funeral and a bit for the Widow and Boy. Address, 47 Alma Street, St John’s Road, Hoxton, London. P.S. – All letters answered.

Frederick died at the early age of 56 and Priscilla survived him for six years, dying in 1896. One wonders if his brothers contributed to his funeral or helped the family – it would seem few of them were in a position to do so.

It is from Fred and Priscilla or the Yorkshire family that any British Flexneys alive today are descended.


Selina Flexney 1837-1918

Apart from the Census and Birth, Marriage & Death indices we have very little information for Selina’s life. In late 1856 she married Charles Hadden in Witney. This was three years after the death of her father, so possibly, with her youngest daughter settled, this was the trigger for the departure of Mary Flexney to join her children in Bristol. In any event the couple had two children in Witney, Mary Ann (or Anna ) in 1857 and Selina in 1860. By the time of the Census of 1861 the family had joined the other members of the Flexney clan in Redcliffe (see above). They were at 12 Nelson Place with two other families (fourteen individuals in all). Another family in the house consisted of Henry Woodcock aged 22, a Chair Maker, born in Witney, together with his nineteen-year old wife Elizabeth, and baby daughter, Eliza. Henry was the son of John Woodcock the schoolmaster and we shall meet Elizabeth again later. Charles Hadden’s occupation in 1861 is given as labourer and ten years later he is a “Brewery Labourer”. This is last we hear of Charles – he died in 1880.

Charles and Selina had five more children whilst in Bristol – all sons; Charles William (1862), Edward (1864), Thomas (1872), William (1874) and Alfred (1879). By 1871 they had moved to the Dings area of St Philip & St Jacob parish, a district noted for its tough working class reputation. They are always found in Folly Lane, usually in one of the terraces of houses it contained: Cannon Place in 1871, Adelaide Place in 1881 and Folly Lane itself in 1891. By 1901 Selina, by then a widow for more than twenty years had moved to Queen Victoria Street, a few hundred yards away, close to the main railway lines that ran into Temple Meads station.


Folly Lane must have been a fairly unpleasant area to live in. Bounded on two sides by railway sidings and major engine sheds, to the east lay a major gas works, which, by the 1880s necessitated the demolition of Adelaide Place in order to accommodate a second gasometer. As far as we can tell, Selina was the last of Edward and Mary’s children to die – living until the spring of 1918.


John Flexney 1840-?

John was born on 9th May 1840 and baptised just under a month later at St Mary’s, Witney like all his siblings, and he appears on the 1841 Census as a child of one; on the 1851 Census he is shown with his parents, living at Wood Green. As we have seen above, John was residing at Redcliffe Parade in 1861, along with Mary Ann, Agnes and Daniel and his occupation is given as “Porter”. This Census was taken on the night of 7/8th April and just six weeks later John was married to Maria Noyes at St Pauls, Bedminster. According to the certificate John was living at Wapping, which was an area near the docks, just to the west of Redcliffe, between the Floating Harbour and the New Cut. Strangely enough, Maria’s address is Philip Street, Bedminster. Could this just have been a convenience address, so the banns could be called at St Pauls, for the Census of April shows her living with her parents, above her father’s bootmaking business in Temple Way, Redcliffe? It must be added though, that Maria had had a child, Arthur John Noyes, baptized in Bedminster the previous year, although the infant only lived a few months.

John Flexney and Maria Noyes marriage certificate 1861 [7]

John worked as a railway porter for the Great Western Railway, probably at Temple Meads (He was certainly there in 1877 when a he appeared as a witness in court in a case of theft). A twice daily trip from his home in the Redcliffe area to the station would have taken him past Mr. Noyes’ shop, and possibly inside to order new boots and converse with the young lady serving?

Temple Gate, Bath Parade [11]

The photograph shows William Noyes shop in Bath Parade, Temple Gate. It is the second on the right from the public house, with a rectangular sign between the downstairs and upstairs window. It stood exactly facing the entrance of the original Temple Meads building of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Most of the people photographed stood perfectly still as required, but there seems to be a ghost image of a child or children outside the Noyes’ shop. They obviously lacked the necessary patience. This photograph dates to 1892, but not much had changed in the intervening thirty years.

John and Maria’s first child, Ada Maria Constance was born in April 1862 at 50 Weare Street, Bedminster. Sadly little Ada died before the year was out, but the following year a son, Frank Noyes Flexney was born. By this time the family had moved to 25 Mead Street, which lay next to Weare Street. Two years later a third child was born, Kate Alice, and by 1870 they had moved to No 51, where Wrights Directory lists John Flexney. The family were still at this address when the Census was taken in 1871 and John is now described as a “Foreman Railway Porter”. In addition they have two boarders, both railway porters, one of whom is John’s nephew, Frederick Bridgman, the son of his sister, Marlin. There is also a second family living in the house.

Wright’s Directory for 1876 shows that John and Maria had moved to 6 Cambridge Street in Totterdown, and when they had their daughter Kate baptized in that year, John is described as a “Clerk”.

Cambridge Street, Totterdown

Houses in Cambridge Street (No 6 has been demolished)

What had seemed to be a steady improvement in the family standing was to end by 1880. That is the final year in which John was to appear in the Directory, indeed, when Maria died at the tragically early age of 37, he may not even have been living at home. The causes of Maria’s death are recorded on the death certificate as “Albuminuria 7 years, Dropsy, Coma”, so it seems as if she had been an invalid for some time, and her father, William Noyes is the informant, “in attendance”. Her husband, John is described as a labourer. When his son Frank married in January of the following year he still gives John’s occupation as labourer, but in the Census just a few months later, John describes himself (like his elder brothers) as a musician. He is living at a lodging house at 25/6 Albert Road, Swindon, and is one of twenty boarders there on Census night; two others are musicians so it is possible they were travelling as a group.

We can’t tell if John ever returned to Bristol. The 1881 Census shows his son Frank already married and working as a porter in a private school in Redland, whilst daughter Kate was living with her maternal aunt, Clara Noyes. Apart from a single entry in the next Census no further trace of John has yet been found – not even a record of his death. In 1891 John is still a musician and again in Wiltshire, this time in a caravan belonging to a travelling show – “The Wild West” which was stopping at Sherston Magna. The company occupied five caravans and comprised two “proprietors”, three musicians, a stall keeper, groom, three acrobats, three general labourers (male) and two general servants (female) as well as four children, who were the grandchildren of Eliza Harvey, one of the proprietors. The other two musicians, apart from John, were Eliza’s two sons and the stall keeper was her daughter-in-law.

John was only fifty at the time of this last record, so it is possible he may have emigrated, lived under an assumed name or simply died unnoticed by the officialdom of the period. We may never know.

John and Maria’s son Frank stayed in Bristol and married Leah Fook, who was nine years his senior, although not until after they had had a daughter together. In all they had nine children, of whom seven survived into adulthood.

Frank and Leah Flexney c1905 [4]

Their photograph, taken around 1905 shows a confident, prosperous couple, verging onto middle class status, however Frank was to die seven years later and his two sons, Francis & Oliver both perished in the First World War, like their Manchester cousins, so no male members of the family were left. The last individual to bear the Flexney name in Bristol was Frank and Leah’s daughter, my great aunt, Lily Maria who married at the advanced age of 62 in 1953.

Daniel Flexney 1843-1917

Edward and Mary’s youngest child, Daniel was baptised at St Mary’s Church on 23 July 1843 and appears on the 1851 Census with his parents, living at Wood Green, Witney. Ten years later he is in Bristol, in the households of the Flexneys and Woodcocks at 1 Redcliffe Parade. Under the occupation column is written “An Apprentice”, unusually vague for an enumerator. We know from later records that Daniel became a Chair Maker, so can presume he was engaged in the furniture trade at seventeen. Also in the house and the only person not a member of the two families is Emily Hewlet, aged seventeen like Daniel, and a Pupil Teacher. This was a senior pupil who had graduated to teaching the younger children and would normally, in the course of time, become a teacher herself. It may be that Emily taught in the Recliffe National School where John Woodcock was a master.

John Flexney Census 1861 copy

1861 Census showing the Woodcocks, Flexneys and Emily Hewlet

Just two years later, on 7th July 1863 Daniel and Emily were married at St Hilary, Glamorgan, a village a few miles west of Cardiff. Although Emily was born in Bristol (in 1851 she was living with an uncle in Bedminster), her mother, Anne, who witnessed the marriage hailed from South Wales, so perhaps this is the reason for the place chosen for the wedding. Daniel’s occupation is given as Cabinet Maker. Just seven weeks later their first child, Frances Annie was born (25th August 1863). The couple had two more children, Mary Eleanor (1865) and Henry Edward (1867). The two former were born in Mead Street, Bedminster and son Harry in Somerset Street. So the family resided quite close to Daniel’s elder brother, John. By 1871 the marriage had broken down completely however. It is interesting that the certified copy of their marriage certificate I have bears the date 5th February 1868, just a month after her son’s birth; did Emily require legal confirmation that the marriage had taken place?

In the Census of 1871, we have seen that Mary Eleanor was living with Daniel’s brother Edward under the name of Nelly. Young Harry was boarding with a family called Sprake in Banwell, Somerset and Emily was employed as a nurse in the house of Thomas Rich, a chemist, at 32 High Street, Weston Super Mare. Meanwhile Daniel is recorded in a multi-occupancy house at 2 Cannon Street, St James. He is now described as a chair maker and has a new wife, Elizabeth and two children, Alice aged 8 and Annie, 7. We can assume that Annie is his daughter, Frances Annie, but who are Elizabeth and Alice? We need to retrace our steps to the Woodcock family who were in the same house as Selina Flexney and her husband, Charles Hadden in 1861. Henry Woodcock (a chair maker like Daniel) was one of the sons of John Woodcock the teacher by his first wife Fanny. He married Elizabeth Smith in Bedminster in 1859, and they were to have five children, among them an Emily in late 1862 and Elizabeth Jane in 1870. We can’t tell when Daniel and Elizabeth moved in together, but it is possible that the Alice in the 1871 Census is, in fact, Emily Woodcock, perhaps her real name being an embarrassment. I haven’t yet traced Elizabeth’s other children in that year; they were presumably with Henry who died in 1872. We have a further problem with the children in Daniel’s household in 1881, but before that another major crisis was to hit the household.

In October 1876 Daniel and Elizabeth were married in Bristol. Unlike in the case of his elder brother Charles Richard, the authorities found out and Daniel was tried for bigamy in March 1877. In his defence he claimed that his first marriage had broken down after three years and that he and Emily had agreed to separate “owing to domestic differences” and he agreed to pay her 2/6d a week. He also claimed that “an accountant” advised him this was as good as a divorce. He added that both he and Elizabeth thought that remarriage was allowed after such a long separation. If this story of the first marriage was true, it means that Daniel and Emily had split up before the birth of Harry and it was several years before he and Elizabeth set up home – her youngest daughter with Henry Woodcock was born around April 1870. However, in spite of both prosecution and defence requesting leniency in the case, Daniel was sentenced to 3 months with hard labour after pleading guilty.

The 1881 Census finds Emily Flexney, now describing herself as a widow, living with her mother, Ann Hewlett in Ealing, West London. She is a dressmaker and Ann an annuitant. Not too far away Harry, now aged 15 is living-in at the White Hart, Windmill Road, his occupation “Pot Boy”. Meanwhile Daniel and Elizabeth are living back in Nelson Place, Redcliffe, at No 10. With them are two unmarried daughters, Jane W. Flexney, a “general servant”, aged 17 and Jane Woodcock, 11 a scholar. The latter is presumably Elizabeth Jane, the youngest daughter of Henry and Elizabeth, but who is the former? I can find no answer to this quandary – could it be Alice/Emily, born 1862 in another guise? But why Flexney for one girl and Woodcock for the other in that case?

By 1891 several people in this sad saga had died. Young Harry in London was first, towards the end of 1882, and then Ann Hewlett in 1887. Finally around August 1888 Elizabeth Woodcock/Flexney died in Bristol. She and Daniel do not seem to have had any children together, but she had lived just long enough to see her daughter Elizabeth Jane marry Alfred Langdon earlier that year. Whether or not their family tragedies had brought them closer, in the Census of 1891 Daniel and his first wife Emily were back together, living in Ducie Road, Lawrence Hill. Emily died in 1899 and by the census two years later Daniel was living in Sheffield, a lone boarder with a local family. His occupation is still chair maker, but the word “cabinet” has been added, as had happened in some other censuses. 1911 finds Daniel back in South Wales, living in the household of Margret Ace, a widow with two children. There are two other lodgers in the house, at 59 Fleet Street, Swansea, but they appear at the bottom of the list, below the Ace children – Daniel appears next after Margret. Daniel died of a heart attack in Swansea on 12th April 1917 and although he died in the Swansea Workhouse Infirmary, his address is given as 69 Fleet Street. He was 73.

Daniel’s two daughters both married and seem to be flourishing in the 1901 Census. Mary Eleanor had married Daniel Jones in Liverpool in 1882 and had two daughters, Ivy and Violet. Frances Annie wed Henry Searle at St John’s Bedminster on 7th July 1884 and by the Census of 1901 she had presented him with six sons and then two daughters. Although Henry was to die in 1907, Frances Annie lived on to 1931.

Frances Annie Flexney in later years. Reproduced with the kind permission of Mr N Mills [3]

Frances Annie Searle nee Flexney

(Reproduced with the kind permission of Mr N Mills)




Bath and Bristol

Earl Street, St James

The Gibbs Family

The ancestors of Joan Gibbs mostly hailed from Bath and south Gloucestershire, yet gravitated to Bristol during the course of the nineteenth century. The earliest member of the family we can be positive about was John Gibbs who was born around 1810 in the Walcot area of Bath. He is almost certainly the individual baptised at St Swithins, Walcot on 17th December 1809, the son of Thomas and Mary Gibbs. They themselves had been married at the chapel of ease of St Mary, Queen’s Square, which was part of the large parish of Walcot, on 1st February 1807, both being shown as widowers. Mary’s previous husband was named Smith, but earlier records are unable to pinpoint her maiden name. Thomas was probably the person whose burial is recorded at St Swithins on January 4th 1819 aged 59 but we can be sure that Mary’s burial is that recorded at the same church on June 26th 1838, as her place of death is given as 62 Avon Street, Walcot which is the address of her son, John the following year.

St Swithin Walcot R

St Swithin’s Walcot


John Gibbs had married Amelia Helps on May 19th 1833 at St Swithins. Amelia’s family also came from the Walcot area, her father, William, a plasterer had died (aged 33) in 1819; her mother was born Elizabeth Vincent around 1776 and the couple had married at Bathwick before moving to Walcot, where they had four children baptised, Amelia being the third in 1815.

Following their marriage, John and Amelia seem to have moved to Bristol – their first two children, Amelia (1834) and Thomas (1836) both give Bristol as their place of birth on later census records and their baptisms are recorded at Holy Trinity church St Phillips. By the middle of 1839 the family were back in Bath however, and their next child, William was born at 62 Avon Street on 1st June of that year. John’s occupation is given as “comb maker”, and he continues to give this in future years along with his other profession in the retail trade. In due course, three other children appear in the records; Elizabeth Helps (1842), Frederick (1851) and Robert Frederick (1854). By the time of the 1841 Census the family were living in Stable Lane, Walcot, and ten years later were in Bridewell Lane, closer to the centre of the city. This is where John seems to have carried on his occupations as variously a Toy Dealer, China and Glass Dealer, and Newsagent as well as continuing as a Comb Maker. Their businesses certainly are listed in directories as being here, even after the family moved residence to Hartley Place.

Hartley Place map

Hartley Place off Lansdown Road, Bath

The 1851 census, when the family were in Bridewell Lane, gives John as a Comb Maker and Amelia as a “Shop Huckstress”. This indicates that she was already in the retail trade, a Huckster being a person who sold small items from a tray, either instore or door-to-door (like a pedlar). Perhaps it was Amelia who built up the retail business that the Gibbs’ carried on throughout the rest of their lives. By 1871 John was described as a General Dealer, but no more occupations are recorded for Amelia until 1881 (after John’s death) when she is described as a “Newsagent”. The family stayed in Hartley Place (a court of five or six houses, just off Lansdown Road) until after John’s death in 1880. By 1891 Amelia had moved just around the corner to become a lodger at 12 Guinea Lane. She is described as a “Retired Shopkeeper”. John died early in 1880 and was buried in Locksbrook Cemetery which served the St Swithins parish.

12 Guinea Lane Bath

12 Guinea Lane

Amelia Gibbs died in early summer 1900 and was buried with her husband (the cemetery record notes “2nd interment”) at Locksbrook on July 21st of that year.

It is gratifying to be able to record the history of one’s family and such accounts tend to gloss over the situations where no progress can be made. I try to research the story of all the siblings of my ancestors, although they are generally not mentioned in these articles. One such problem ancestor is the eldest daughter of John and Amelia; named Amelia like her mother she was born, as we have seen, in Bristol in 1834, and in December 1859 she married Henry Abraham at Bathwick church. A son, Mark was born in April 1860, but died at the age of five weeks and was buried at Bathwick. Thereafter I can find no record at all of Amelia. In the 1861 Census, Henry is living with his parents and described as “married” and twenty years later he married again, but I can find no death or any other trace of Amelia under either her maiden or married name.

Water Street, Bristol

Water Street, St Pauls

The two eldest sons of John and Amelia continued the family tradition by moving to Bristol early in their adult lives. The 1861 Census finds them at 11 Water Street, St Pauls. There were two households there – the Mitchell family, and Ellen Cornwell and her son, with whom the brothers were lodging. Both Ellen and the head of the Mitchell family, Henry had been born in Wotton under Edge in Gloucestershire, although all of the Mitchell children had been born in Walcot. We shall return to this family later, as the eldest daughter, Mary Ann was to marry William Gibbs later that year. She is described as a servant and William is a Chair Maker. Interestingly they married at St Swithin’s Walcot, which was the home parish of both of them, but seem to have lived virtually all of their married lives in the St James area of Bristol. The birth of their eldest son, William Henry is registered in Bristol in the quarter ending 31st December 1861, whilst the wedding took place on the 15th December of that year, presumably after the birth.

The second son, Frederick Samuel was christened at St Pauls in Bristol, but most of the baptisms of their growing family took place at St James, and the Census returns show them living at West Street in 1871 and Earl Street in 1891. The Census for 1881 shows the family returning to Bath and living with William’s recently widowed mother, Amelia at Hartley Place.

St James c1800

St James church

William’s occupation is normally shown as “Chair Frame Maker”, but the 1891 Census shows an interesting range of jobs for his children: Frederick and John who were married and not living at home at this time were respectively a mason’s labourer and a french polisher; William was a nail cutter, Mary Amelia (born 1870, sometimes Emily) was a seamstress, Thomas (1873) a chair maker, like his father, Henry (1874) a pawnbroker’s assistant, Robert Charles (1876) an errand boy and young Albert Edward (1886) was still a scholar; Albert Edward later became a collier like his elder brother Frederick Samuel and was killed in the First World War near Cambrai in 1917.


The 1891 Census was the last in which William and Mary Ann appear –she died in 1895 aged 53 and he died in 1898 aged 59 – and the family were back in St James Parish, Bristol, living at 11 Earl Street. Apart from the sojourn in Bath they seem to have always lived in the close-packed streets and lanes just to the north of St James Church. It was obviously a tight-knit community who lived in one another’s pockets. At the same address in 1881 William’s sons, William, Frederick and John were boarders with the family of Edwin Horsford – this Edwin was a chair frame maker like William and was a fellow boarder with him in 1861 with the Mitchell family (see above). Another boarder at the Horsfield’s was a Joseph Cavill – he was still at No.11 in 1891 with William’s family, and also in 1911 with William’s son John. The Horsford family had moved to No.7.

St James area

The area north of St James Church where the Gibbs family lived until the early twentieth century

As we have seen, John Gibbs, the son of William and Mary Ann had stayed behind in Bristol when his parents moved briefly to Bath. In 1881, still aged only 14 he is listed as french polisher’s apprentice. He was presumably following his Mitchell grandfather, Henry into that occupation and in 1891 was living at 15 Upper Montague Street with his wife, Ada (nee Street) and first child, Amelia.

Earl Street 2

Earl Street, St James

By 1901 John and Ada were back at 11 Earl Street with their growing family. Amelia was now 11 and the next daughter, Ada, (born 1891) was staying with her Street grandmother. We then have Elizabeth Emily (8), Mary Gladys (6) Mabel Martha (3) and Frederick Charles (1). A final son, Albert, was to be born the following year. Also in the household there were five lodgers, including Joseph Cavill and his son (also Joseph) and John’s younger brother, Henry who was now a woodcarver. Tragedy was to strike the family soon however, as John died at the early age of 40 on 20 March 1907, of cirrhosis of the liver. This may have been caused in part by his work with strong chemicals, but it is also worth noting that by 1911 younger brother Henry was the landlord of the White Hart in Earl Street.

Gay Street c1900

Gay Street from the top c1900

How the family coped without a breadwinner is impossible to say, but I have not been able to trace them on the 1911 Census so far. Obviously as the children grew and went out to work, life must have improved and in 1913-4 they were living in Hillgrove Cottage, Carolina Row (a short street connecting King’s Square to the bottom of Gay Street). By 1915 they were living at 4 Gay Street, Kingsdown, just to the north of the area where they were born and brought up. Ada Gibbs is reported to have kept her connections with St James’ as she was a cleaner in the church around this time. No 4 is the second house from the right in the photograph above, which shows the street from the top. It appears there is a small girl playing with her pram outside.
One by one the children married and moved away, apart from Mabel, whose fiance died before they could marry. Elizabeth also had a wartime romance with a soldier who was subsequently killed and the relationship resulted in the birth of Joan Ethel Gibbs (1918). Elizabeth later married Herbert Eason. Both of John and Ada’s sons entered military service. Frederick actually enlisted on April 26th 1915 when he was still 14 years and 9 months old; he claimed he was 18. His deception lasted almost a year before he was discharged in March 1916 for having “made a mis-statement” on his attestation document. He later became a regular soldier and took part in the evacuation at Dunkirk in 1940. His younger brother Albert was too young for the First World War but, having been in the North Somerset Yeomanry already, enlisted in the Royal Tank Corps in 1923. He served eight years and returned to his trade of leaded light glazing. Ada Gibbs died in 1935, by which time she was living with her daughter, Mabel and young Joan at Mabel’s house at 7 Greenway Park, Southmead. Mabel spent all her working life at Wills Tobacco factory in Bedminster and had not long retired when she died suddenly in 1956.
The photograph below shows most of Ada’s family on the occasion of the marriage of Mary Gladys (known in the family as Polly) to Bertie Horwood on 2 July 1921. The wedding was at St James and this photograph was probably taken at the back of 4 Gay Street

Gladys Gibbs wedding

Standing: Unknown (bridesmaid?) Unkown (best man?), Frederick, Mabel, Elizabeth Willis (Ada’s sister), Albert, Amelia.
Sitting: Bertie Horwood, Mary Gladys, Ada Gibbs with Joan on her lap.