Another alias, alas

Hailey Chapel copy


In researching family history one continuously comes across the problem of “how much proof do I need” to be sure one is making the correct connections and relationships. This is particularly true the further one delves back when the only source of information are often parish registers with perhaps the occasional will or other document to help. Even the registers cannot be relied upon as they were frequently copied up once a year from notebooks (if you’re lucky) or even scaps of paper notes made by a clerk or sexton. There are many omissions and mistakes in them which can rarely be checked. All these problems lead to an increasing number of “brick walls’ where one may have an inkling as to the truth, but no real proof. Which brings me to the Godfrey family of Hailey, near Witney in Oxfordshire.

My ancestor, Edward Flexney married Mary Godfrey at St Marys, Witney on March 12, 1815. They had a family of ten children and, following Edward’s death in 1853, several of them moved to Bristol where Mary is also found in 1861; she died in 1878 and was buried at St Mary Redcliffe. Mary was the illegitimate daughter of Merlin Godfrey and her baptism is recorded at Witney in August 1796. We can be confident that this is correct baptism as Mary named her eldest daughter Merlin and the name is used by other members of her family. It is a rare name, occurring just a few times in the 17th century in Oxfordshire and more often in the 18th. It is variously spelt Marlin, Merlin or Marlyn and is probably a pet-form or diminutive of Mary; it is the forerunner to the more recent Marilyn.

Merlin was the daughter of William Godfrey of Hailey and baptised at the chapel of St John in Hailey on June 25th 1780. This record and the baptism of her daughter Mary are the only records I can find of Merlin. So far I have not been able to discover a marriage or a burial for her. It is with her father, William Godfrey that we start to encounter problems. Several children are baptised in Hailey or Witney to a William and Elizabeth Godfrey and the confusion with names begins with what appears to be their eldest son who was baptised as John-Godfery son of William and Elizabeth Smith of Hailey. There is also presumably an elder sister, Tabitha baptised the previous year as Tabitha Smith. This led me to a marriage on August 13 1776 between Elizabeth Leveridge and William Smith alias Godfery at St Marys, Witney. William signed the register as William Smith. All their other children were baptised as either Godfrey, Smith Godfrey or some form indicating an alternative name of either Smith or Godfrey. Not finding any earlier form of the alias or double-barrelled name, and there being several possible baptisms for either a William Smith or a William Godfrey I let my research lapse for many years.

Making contact recently with someone else looking at this family, I resumed my efforts in trying to take this line further back and finding out why the alias might have come into use. Life has been made a little easier in recent years as the parish registers and wills for Oxfordshire have now come online. Searching the latter for Godfreys and Smiths I came across the will of John Godfrey, yeoman of Hailey who died in October 1782. In it he leaves some cash bequests to various nephews and nieces, mostly named Godfrey but the bulk of his estate is left to two brothers who are rather uniquely described as “Thomas the son of Ann Harris (heretofore Ann Smith Spinster) which she had before her Intermarriage with her present Husband John Harris the younger of Hailey aforesaid Yeoman” and “William the Son of the said Ann Harris which she likewise had before her Intermarriage with her said Husband the said John Harris”. William was to receive all John’s property, buildings and land in Hailey as well as all his personal possessions and money, whereas Thomas was to be paid £500 within one year of John’s death. This sum was to come from the estate and William was appointed sole executor. What does this lead us to conclude? To begin, William the executor at probate, swore an oath as “William Harris”, but it may be that was what was required owing to the wording of the will, which gives neither brother a surname. Could this therefore be William Smith alias Godfrey; if so it would provide an obvious solution to the problems with his surname.

From here on we are in the area of conjecture, but there are other pointers that may help. There is will of a Thomas Smith Godfrey made in 1809 and proved at London (in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury {PCC} – the highest probate court in England) on June 10th 1820. Thomas looks a good fit for the man mentioned in the will of John Godfrey. He was a butcher of Witney and the reason for the probate being granted at the PCC rather than Oxford was that he held government securities, Consols, which were deemed to “reside” in London; should an estate hold property in more than one diocese, probate could only be granted in the higher court. This Thomas left his estate to his wife, Elizabeth and son Daniel, but with the proviso that if both predeceased him it should go to his “reputed brother William Smith Godfrey of Woodgreen near Witney”, and failing that to William’s children. So it would appear even more likely that we are looking at the the two sons of Anne Smith/Harris named in John Godfrey’s will as the surnames fit the situation – the use of an alias can often indicate illegitimacy – and Woodgreen in Witney was at the time in the parish of Hailey rather than Witney itself, thus tying in with the location of John Godfrey’s farm.

In due course research into the manorial records of Hailey may help to provide further information and possibly proof of all these supposed connections, but to summarise, I will lay out what I consider the most likely narrative to explain the history of the Smith Godfrey family:

Baptism William Smith 1757

Baptismal record of William Smith in 1757

John Godfrey, the son of Daniel Godfrey of Hailey was born in 1707 and no record of his marrying exists. At some point he contracted a relationship with Anne Smith also of Hailey resulting in the birth of three children, William baptised 1757, Mary 1763 and Thomas 1765. The first two are shown in the register as “base born” but I think Thomas was the child baptised in June 1765 as Thomas Harris, the son of John and Anne. This marriage is the one referred to in the will of John Godfrey and took place in April 1765. My belief is that Thomas had already been born before the marriage but was baptised shortly afterwards as John Harris’ child. What the latter thought of this one can surmise, but it was not uncommon for men to marry a wife who was pregnant by another man and perhaps there was some financial inducement by John Godfrey; John Harris was a labourer when he married Anne Smith but is later described as a yeoman. I think both brothers would have normally been referred to as Smith (or possibly Harris in Thomas’ case) and nothing would have changed until possibly the point when William found out about his origins and was told he would inherit John Godfrey’s estate. This may have been at any time before John’s death in 1782, but I’m inclined to think it was in the late 1770s and was the cause of William beginning increasingly to use the Godfrey name. I can find no positive trace of Mary, the sister of William and Thomas. She may be the Mary Smith Godfrey buried at Hailey in 1796, but then it would be unusual for her not to be mentioned in John Godfrey’ will – unless of course she was not John’s daughter after all.

William Godfrey and his wife Elizabeth had a large family, twelve children in all including Merlin, and it may be that his social position declined in time. He looks likely to be the William Godfrey who was buried in Hailey in 1821 where he is described as a labourer. Possibly he was not a good farmer, or that the £500 he had to pay his brother in 1783 saddled the farm with debts it could not service. Agricultural depression following the Napoleonic Wars would not have helped. Thomas however prospered. There is no knowing what his estate was valued at in 1820 when he died, but it sounds substantial and his only son, Daniel went on to become a very prosperous solicitor.


Note: transcriptions of the wills of John Godfrey and Thomas Smith Godfrey will soon be available on the Oxfordshire FHS site of transcribed wills (here)

The Flexney Merchants



Simplified tree of the Flexney family


All my previous articles have concerned my direct ancestors or very closely related forebears. This one is different. In tracking down my Flexney family in Oxfordshire it was necessary to identify as many of the bearers of the name as possible in order to add or eliminate them from my line. In doing so I came across one branch of the Flexneys who prospered in the wooden trade, moved to London and whose story ended in a mixture of wealth and tragedy. I have decided to publish my findings here as a matter of interest and also to record part of the history of the wider Flexney clan.


Quaker Meeting House, Wood Green, Witney

There were many branches of the Flexney family in West Oxfordshire in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but one was pre-eminent in status. This was the line starting with Justinian Flexney, a fuller of Witney who died in 1675. His christian name indicates that his family may have originated in Stanton Harcourt, where there were at least three Justinian Flexneys in the late sixteenth/early seventeenth century, but a gap in the parish registers there makes it impossible to be sure. He married Ann Collier around 1640 (although I can’t find where) and had children baptised at St Marys, Witney in the 1640s. Strangely there is no mention of him in the Protestation Roll of 1641/2, although there are two Justinian Hicks listed. Now one branch of the Flexney family was known by the alias Hicks/Hix so it quite possible that Justinian belonged to one of these. A certain Justinian Flexney alias Hix was a party to two law suits in Chancery in the early 1600s and this may be his father; another identification may be the Justinian the younger, whose father died in 1634 in Stanton and who left a strange bequest to his son in his will (see here).



A Fulling Mill

Fulling (or in the south and west, tucking) is a process in the manufacture of cloth whereby the woven material was repeatedly hammered in a fulling mill, using a combination of chemicals (fuller’s earth) and soap in order to clean it and wash out any impurities, at the same time binding the fibres tighter. No doubt, with the importance of the cloth trade, especially the manufacture of blankets, fulling was a major industry in the area. Justinian died in 1675 and in his will (see here) he left his son John, three racks and three pairs of fullers shears as well as his house in Corn Street after the death of his widow, who had the use of it for life. An inventory lists all his possession including the shears, racks and furniture “att the mill”, which implies he must have leased it. There are small bequests for two sons-in-law, but no mention of his younger son, Daniel, then aged about 13.The burial register for St Marys, Witney is missing for the relevant period, but we can assume that Justinian was buried there, as in his will he states that to be his wish.

A document dated 1678, just three years after Justinian’s death names John Flexney as a fuller, and involved in the acquisition of a plot of land near Wood Green in Witney, which was to become the site of a Quaker Meeting House.This is the first indication that any of the family had joined the Society of Friends. By the start of the eighteenth century John and his brother Daniel were prosperous clothiers (cloth merchants) as well as being in the forefront of the Quaker community in Witney. Their names often appear at the head of any list in the minutes of the Monthly Meeting which organised the business of the Society. Their mother, Ann died in 1706 at the advanced age of 92 and in her will (see here) she left her son, Daniel the sum of £20 as well as her household goods which are “in his possession”; the will was drawn up in 1699 and shows that Ann was living with Daniel at that time. There is a proviso that the household goods should go to whichever of her children she was residing with at the time of her death. There are cash bequests for her daughters and a son-in-law and also to her sister, but the remainder of her estate is left to her eldest son, John. Ann was buried in the grounds of the Quaker Meeting House on Wood Green.

Around 1686 John Flexney married Ann although no record has been found. They were to have seven children of whom four, three girls and a boy, John survived to adulthood. Their youngest daughter, Hannah often appears on online trees as having emigrated to Pennsylvania and married one Thomas Rossiter; this is wholly incorrect for in fact she married Samuel Whittington and was named as Hannah Whittington in her father’s will of 1728. John and Ann’s final child was John who was born in 1698 and whose marriage to Anne May is recorded in the Quaker registers in 1724. John was described as a fuller, following the family trade, but his father was designated as a clothier in documents around this time. Anne May was the daughter of Edward May of Drayton in Berkshire (now part of Oxfordshire) who was a prominent Quaker also, and whose son, Edward had already moved to Witney and was a successful clockmaker.

John Flexney senior made his will in 1728 and died late in 1730. Thereafter nothing more is heard of this branch of the family in Quaker or other records, with the exception of his daughter Elizabeth, (who was unmarried in 1735, aged around 45, and was still receiving money for her rent from Quaker charity funds into the 1760s) and an unnamed daughter of his son John, who were both mentioned in the will of their uncle.


Elizabeth Flexney’s rent paid by the Witney Quakers 1764

The family of John’s younger brother Daniel is rather better documented. Daniel was baptised at Cogges church in 1662, the youngest of the children of Justinian and Ann, who must have been around 47 years old when he was born. Quaker registers show him marrying Mary Fitchett on 4th July 1691 and he was already described as a clothier. The couple had six children of which two sons, at least, survived into adulthood: Daniel born in 1694 and Joseph in 1698. It appears that at some stage Daniel senior moved first to Widford, near Swinbrook and then to Burford where he leased a property in 1717 (The Swan) and, judging from the text of his will, carried on his business. He retained a freehold property in Witney which encompassed a messuage, yard and garden and a piece of “Meadow Grounds”.

Daniel made his will on October 18th, 1735 and was by this time, blind (for transcription see here). It was drawn up and witnessed by Joseph Besse, the noted Quaker writer who was later to compose “A Collection of the Sufferings of the people called Quakers”. Besse noted in an appended declaration that he had known Daniel for several years and that he also drawn up a private schedule which was to be kept by Besse until delivered up to the Court for probate. Besse notes in the will and declaration that Daniel had dictated both documents to him and approved of both on having them repeated to him. Together with a codicil made three weeks later (and to which Joseph Besse does not seem to be a party) these documents give an interesting insight into the Flexney family and Daniel’s religious convictions. Apart from the normal family bequests of cash, ranging from £5 to a niece up to £250 each to the two daughters of his son, Daniel, he left his freehold property in Witney and all the remainder of his estate to Daniel, appointing him his executor. The younger son, Joseph recieved the leasehold house in Burford and the “giving and forgiving” of a debt of £1000 which was outstanding. This gives some indication of the wealth of the family.

One section of the will and the “secret” appendix relates to the desire of Daniel to establish the survival of a charity bequest as well as to arrange the printing of some papers which he had written on religious matters. The latter are described as a manuscript containing “a paper…..against Plays, another against Games and Whitsun sports so called and also a paper of mine containing advice to Magistrates to suppress Vice and Immorality”. These were to be printed and distributed “among my Neighbours acquaintance and such as have heretofore been my servants or employ’d by me in and about Burford and the adjacent places”. The charity bequest was in the form of £100 put out at interest, and for the interest thereon to be distributed by Trustees nominated by the Witney Quaker Monthly Meeting.

The codicil to Daniel’s will arranged that in the absence abroad of his son Daniel, the younger son Joseph was to be his executor and bound him to carry out the terms of the will. It would appear that Daniel senior was fast approaching death and was concerned that probate might be delayed if his eldest son did not return in the near future. The codicil was dated November 11th 1735 and the will was proved, naming Joseph as the executor on December 4th, so we must assume Daniel senior died soon after the date of the codicil. There is no record of his burial. Was he aware that his son Joseph had married in an anglican church six months earlier one wonders? Joseph’s bride was Constant Hart and in the register of St James, Newbottle, Northamptonshire the couple are both described as “of Burford in….Oxfordshire”; the marriage was by licence. Constant was baptised in 1708 in the church at Burford, so may have remained an Anglican. Only one child of this marriage is recorded – another Joseph born in 1737. Following the terms of his father’s will, Joseph took on the property in Burford and extended the lease in 1735, for a further 21 years, agreeing to spend £100 in repairs. Joseph continued his father’s business as a clothier but also invested elsewhere. In 1737 he was a partner in providing capital for a paper mill at Upton, just upstream of Burford. It may well be that Joseph expanded his business into London as did his elder brother, Daniel (see below) for in an Old Bailey trial of 1737 the accused is indicted for stealing 5 yards of cloth belonging to Joseph Flexney in the parish of St Leonard, Shoreditch.

The younger Joseph married Martha Taylor of Shutford in a ceremony recorded by the Monthly Meeting of Burford on July 11th 1759. Both father and son are described as “Clothers” and both sign the certificate. There is no mention of Constant so it may be assumed she had died by then. A year later, Joseph junior was a witness at the marriage of his cousin, Hannah (see below), but records of the two Josephs are sparse after that. Joseph senior died at Burford on January 3rd, 1783 and was buried, alongside his family no doubt, in the Burial Yard of the Meeting House in Witney. The instruction to the gravedigger bears the remark that Joseph “stood disowned” so had presumably broken with the Quaker community.

Joseph junior and his wife Martha moved to London at some stage, for the Land Tax records shows Joseph living in Kensington from 1797 onwards and when Martha was buried at Hammersmith in 1807, her address was Kensington Gravel Pits. This was just north of Kensington Palace, and was a far more prestigious residence than it sounds. The same address is given on Joseph’s burial five years later, with the added comment “not a Member”. So it seems both Josephs had cut ties with the Society of Friends.


Location of Kensington Gravel Pits

In contrast, Daniel Flexney the younger, who was born in 1694, maintained his Quaker faith throughout his life, as far as the records show. As we have seen above, he was not in England in 1735 when his father made his will. It is most likely that he was in Pennsylvania where he had many trading connections. The first mention of him comes upon his arrival at Philadelphia in 1718. A certificate from the Witney Monthly Meeting, dated August 11th 1718 was presented there on September 26th and describes him as unmarried and the son of Daniel Flexney of Burford. It was signed by his father, uncle and cousin, John. It would seem that Daniel spent some time in America, making trading contacts and buying land. He certainly struck up a relationship with the Phildelphia merchant John Reynall, who for many years acted as a factor for Daniel and was involved in numerous transactions with him. One concerned the commissioning and building of a ship “The Mary” which was constructed in Philadelphia on behalf of Daniel (for details see here). There are many references to Daniel, his trading connections and law suits on the internet should anyone wish to delve deeper into his career.

Daniel was certainly back in London, living in Lime Street, in 1722 when he married Elizabeth Mayleigh, the daughter of an apothecary, on June 4th at Devonshire House. His father and brother were present at the Quaker ceremony and signed as witnesses. Daniel junior is already described as a merchant. The couple were to have six children, all born in London, but sadly only two survived childhood, their daughters Mary and Hannah. Looking at the records of the childrens’ births we can see that Daniel and Elizabeth lived at first in Camberwell, but later moved to Bishopsgate Street in the city. Daniel is sometimes referred to as an apothecary like his father-in-law, so presumably he carried on this profession whilst maintaining his trading contacts. Certainly one document of 1737 complaining of his business actions refers to him as an apothecary, at the same time mentioning that he owned a ship called “The Elizabeth” (see here); It also refers to him living for some years in Jamaica for the sake of his health.


Daniels’s burial in the Quaker register for Devonshire House

Daniel’s wife Elizabeth died in 1735 and was buried at the Long Lane Burial Ground in Southwark; Daniel died on January 4th 1748 (1747 Old Style) and was buried in the same place. The burial record notes that he died “of a Consumption”. His will dated December of the previous year leaves all his estate, including his property in Witney, equally to his two daughters, making them joint executrices; he makes it plain that Hannah the youngest was to act as such even though she was under the age of twenty-one. He must have been a wealthy man, his address at the time of his death was New Broad Street which consisted at the time of substantial brick-built houses constructed in the 1730s, and so his death left his daughters (with their already generous legacies from their grandfather) rich heiresses. Mary the elder of the two married William Hyde, a Corn Factor at the Devonshire House Meeting on September 1st 1748, and twelve years later her sister Hannah married William’s brother, Starkey Hyde, a Stockbroker in the same place. Both couples went on to have several children and I had intended to finish my account at this point, but in researching details of when the two Flexney sisters died, I discovered the tragic story of the Hyde family.

William and Mary Hyde appear to have had only two children, Richard (born 1749) and Elizabeth (born 1751) before Mary’s early death (of a “Consumption” like her father) in 1754. Elizabeth is probably the child whose burial is recorded, aged 12 in 1764; she too died of consumption. Starkey and Hannah had four children, but the three eldest (all boys) died in infancy, leaving a daughter, Mary who was born in 1768.


Dissolution of the partnership

William Hyde and his son Richard had gone into partnership, presumably as brokers, but this partnership was dissolved by William in October 1772 and an advertisment placed in the Middlesex Journal warning others not to advance any money against bills or notes drawn on the partnership. It is noted that the two month delay in placing the advertisment (it is dated December 15th) was caused by the sickness of William Hyde. Further evidence of the falling out between father and son is given in the will which William drew up in 1775; now retired from the Corn Exchange, living in Kingston upon Thames and styling himself a Gentleman, William left his only surviving child “one Shilling and no more”. The bulk and remainder of his estate (after some cash bequests to sister and cousins) he left to his brother, Starkey.

On June 28th 1780 Richard Hyde was indicted at the Old Bailey on a charge of breaking the peace and riot and was tried before a jury (for a transcription of the trial see here). The crime in question took place on June 6th and involved the breaking into and ransacking of the house of one Richard Akerman, which was later set fire to and destroyed. This action, carried out by a mob of several hundred, was part of the Gordon Riots which saw many government properties attacked, as well as much private property. Several witnesses confirmed that Richard Hyde had been one of the first to enter Ackerman’s house. The evidence and statements taken at this trial give an insight into the troubled world of the Hyde family. One medical witness, Dr Munro states that he knew the family and had attended William Hyde in October 1772 (the date of the ending of the partnership) when he was “in a state of insanity”, and although his son Richard was perfectly sane. Yet the following year Munro attested that he had found Richard too in a state of insanity. Another witness stated that he believes William was, at the time of the trial, in a state of confinement, and many others provide evidence that Richard was at times clearly insane and at others, quite normal and sensible. It further emerges that his uncle Starkey, although not insane was “extremely low and melancholy”. It seems as if William gave his son an allowance of a guinea a week although at one point Richard (whose comments pepper the trial) claimed that this had been reduced to half a guinea as “I kept two women instead of one”.

The counsel for the crown finally moved that Richard be found not guilty as long as he could be held in confinement, and the Judge agreed and released him into the custody of Richard Kirby of the Wood Street Comptor, a small debtors prison (Newgate, the Clink and other prisons had been badly damaged by the Gordon rioters). His illness and that of his father would probably be diagnosed as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia today, but in the eighteenth century it was merely classed as insanity and confinement was the only recourse. If William was also confined, it was presumably in comfortable circumstances, owing to his wealth, and overseen by his brother, Starkey. However, in 1781 Starkey died and we may assume Hannah his widow continued his role in the family’s trials. It is a fact that William did not make a new will following his brother’s death, so perhaps was incapable of doing so. In August 1780 Richard had been transferred to the Bethlem Hospital (Bedlam) which was the main destination in London for anyone suffering from mental health problems. It has a fearsome reputation, but some good work was also carried out there into restorative therapy. However in Richard’s case an annotation in the margin of his admission record states “Nov 3rd 1781, Not Cur’d but recommended to the care of his Relation”. This must be Hannah his aunt.


Admission register for Bethlem Hospital 1780

William Hyde died in 1785 and administration of his estate was, quite amazingly, granted to Richard “his natural and lawful son”. Apart from Starkey there were two other executors named in the will but they renounced their position. Possibly this was a period of remission for Richard, or more likely, his aunt was somehow controlling his actions. In any case, Richard did not live long to enjoy his new-found wealth; he died on 25th February 1787 “of a Decline” being just under the age of 37. He was buried where most of his family had been interred, at Long Lane Burial Ground, the record noting that he was not a member of any Meeting, but the burial was “granted at the request of Hannah Hyde”.

His will makes interesting reading; there is an affadavit attached, being the statement of Robert Gramond, Gentleman who knew Richard and had seen him sign his name. He confirms that the document is in Richard’s hand and the signature is his. The will itself is a more personal document than the formulaic type usually encountered. Following the normal form of confirming that he was sound of mind, Richard starts by saying “I resign my life to him who gave it with as little regrett as a young man naturally fond of this World can be expected to do”. He then continues with a request that he be buried as near his father in Long Lane Ground as is possible. He requests that a couple of specific debts are paid using remarkably modern language by saying that one loan was made “at a time I really wanted it”. The main beneficiary of the will is a Betty Eaton, wife of Wall Eaton, “now living at Dr. James Shattens at Bethnal Green”. From what little I can discover, I think this was another place of confinement for lunatics. Richard makes it explicit that Betty’s husband is to have no benefit from this legacy. He adds that he should perhaps have left his money to his aunt Anna (the sister of William and Starkey) but concludes she is old and infirm and that his aunt, “the widow”, namely Hannah, will look after her “as long as she lives as her Daughter will immediately come into possession of so good a fortune”. So little love lost there I think. Richard names as his sole executor “my dear and worthy friend Dr Henry Saffory Surgeon of Devonshire Street”, who in due course obtained probate. It may be worth noting that Henry Saffory was a leading expert in the treatment of venereal disease.

Richard’s will is a sad document, perhaps written by someone who had no direct control over his assets, but was, nevertheless determined to see that they went where he desired. For a will it is a very personal document and is moving, in a way not often encountered.

There is very little to add to the story of the Hyde family. Richard’s spinster aunt Anna Hyde died in 1789 and was also buried at Long Lane, and his other aunt, Hannah died in 1813, her residence given as Lower Grosvenor Street (or Place in one document), Pimlico. She too was buried with all her family at Long Lane. There appears to be no will for her and I can find no further trace of her daughter Mary.

Finding the connection


St Marys, Cogges


I have made mention in an earlier article (Oxfordshire Cousins) of Thomas Harwood, the husband of Jane Hanks and the the father of Hannah who married Richard Flexney in 1778. He has been a shadowy figure so far – just a name in the Witney parish registers, recording his marriage, the baptisms of his children and his burial. I had not been able to pinpoint his baptism. The Licence for his marriage simply refers to him as “of Witney”, whereas his bride Jane is from the neighbouring parish of Cogges.

I searched the Oxfordshire registers for a suitable baptism which probably occurred between 1700 and 1710, but the only one I could find was that of “Thomas the sonn of John Harewood” at St Marys, Cogges on January 19th 1707 (which would be 1708 in modern usage). This seemed a likely identification as it might appear that Thomas moved the few hundred yards from Cogges to Witney for employment reasons but knew Jane from childhood. There was one problem however. What I taken to be Thomas’ burial is recorded in Witney in 1775, but there is also a Thomas Harwood buried in Cogges in 1766. It would seem more of a possibility that the person who was baptised at Cogges might be the one buried there 59 years later. At this time the registers did not record ages, and usually not relationships either, so it seemed impossible to reach any firm conclusions and I had reached a dead end.


Baptism of Thomas Harwood 1707/8

Looking through the index of the holdings at the Oxfordshire Heritage Centre (the new name for the Record Office) I found a record of the apprenticeship indenture of Stephen Harwood, the son of Thomas and Jane in 1766. He was bound apprentice to Edward Pruce of Witney, a saddler and harness maker for the term of seven years. It states that Stephen’s father was Thomas Harwood of Witney, blanket weaver. So now we know Thomas’ occupation; the same as that of many of the Flexney family into which Thomas’ daughter Hannah was to marry. The next move was to find if there was any record of Thomas’ apprenticeship. Any such indenture would probably be at the OHC if it existed, but none was listed. I then checked the Apprenticeship Tax records. Between 1710 and 1811 a tax was raised on the indentures of apprentices and the register of payments is available online. Sure enough, on January 3rd 1723 (1724 in modern terms) the following was listed:
“Thos. son of Jno Horrod of Coggs, Oxon” to “Wm Tortman of Whittney, …Weaver”.


This is almost certainly the connection between our Thomas and the Cogges family. The differences in the spelling of the surname is not a concern – Harwood often appears in the same registers as Harewood or Horrod (often Harrod) and simply reflects the pronunciation at the time. In this case, the master’s name was Trotman not Tortman. The burial at Cogges in 1766 remains a problem, but it may just be another member of the family whose baptism is not recorded in the register. There was another Harwood family in Cogges during the 18th century – probably that of an uncle of Thomas, using the same range of names for their children, and it must be mentioned that at least two of Thomas’ brothers are not recorded as baptisms in the register, though they are named in their father’s will, so other baptisms may have missed.


19th century map showing Cogges, Newland and Hill Houses (top right)

Turning to Thomas’ father John, he died in 1740 having left a will dated May 17th 1736. In it he states that he is a brickmaker, living at the Hill Houses, Cogges. This presumably was a hamlet, now the site of Hill Farm just to the east of Cogges. Nineteenth century maps show a collection of cottages as well as the farm itself. In his will John left five shillings each to his sons, John and Richard; one shilling to a son-in-law and forty shillings apiece to his sons Thomas, William and James. The remainder of his estate, including property, implements and stock in trade he left to his son Joseph. Several of these sons seem to have remained in Cogges judging by entries in the registers and one, James, a labourer, died in 1768 leaving a will in which he left Thomas £6, his clothing to brother John and the remainder of his estate to Joseph Harwood.


Detail of map showing dwellings at Hill Houses

At the time of his will, John Harwood senior was a widower, his wife Mary (nee Thomas) having died in 1730. John is probably the individual who was baptised at Cogges in 1671, the son of Richard Harwood; a brother Richard was baptised three years later. As the registers for Cogges only commence in 1653 it is not be possible to take this line back any further.

One odd coincidence with the tracing of this family is that there are two individuals, almost contemporaries in my ancestry with identical names and both involved in the construction industry – John Harwood the brickmaker of Cogges (1671?-1740) and John Harwood the house carpenter of Bristol (1663-1745 – for more on him see here). Could some of the bricks made by the former have found their way into the houses constructed by the latter? Highly unlikely but a tantalising idea.
The wills of John and James Harwood will, in time appear on the OFHS wills website:

Document images courtesy of the Oxfordshire Heritage Centre

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


Flexney. By any other name….



The surname Flexney has a long but fairly undistinguished history in the western part of the county of Oxford. The origin of the name has given rise to two conflicting opinions. The standard history of Oxfordshire surnames maintains that it originated from a lost place name in the county meaning a field where flax grows, citing ancient field names, whereas another line of thought holds that the field names come from the surname and not vice-versa. This second theory has the origin of the name being the village and manor of Fleckney in Leicestershire. Around 1190 both this manor and that of Stanton in Oxfordshire passed into the hands of Robert de Harcourt of Bosworth. The surname “de Fleckney” is certainly present in Robert’s Leicestershire holdings in the early 13th century, and in 1211 one of the tenants of his Oxfordshire manor (thereafter Stanton Harcourt) was one Stephen de Flexneia. It would seem quite likely that the sub-tenants of one estate might move with their lord to another of his holdings, especially younger sons who had little chance of advancement at home.


St Michaels, Stanton Harcourt

In the Oxford Eyre Roll of 1261, which contained summaries of cases heard before circuit judges, the names Robert, John and Walter Flexney appear, and in 1273 a John de Flexneia held land and a mill at Standlake. By the following century one branch of the family had moved to the city of Oxford and were later to provide it with an MP, two mayors and several aldermen. These lines died out in the seventeenth century, but Flexneys remained in Stanton Harcourt and spread slowly into the surrounding areas only disappearing from the county around 1900.


Ralph Flexney MP and Mayor of Oxford on four occasions

My grandmother was a Flexney and in my research of her family, who lived in Witney for over 150 years, I found it difficult to reach back any further than the early 18th century. This is due in part to the lack of records, for several of the parish registers are deficient, but also the inability to distinguish between holders of the same christian name. Looking further back into the 17th century I was also puzzled by the fact that many of the Flexneys bore the alias of Hicks (sometimes Hickes or Hix). It seems obvious to me that all these individuals must be connected in some way, and although proof will probably never be forthcoming, it has been possible to reconstruct some lines.

Alias (or alias dictus) is a latin term meaning simply also or “otherwise called”. It was far more common in the 16th and 17th centuries than in later periods and had no sinister implications. Aliases often arose through inheritance from a maternal ancestor or adoption, and second marriages where the children of one marriage used both their natural and step-fathers’ surnames. Its modern equivalent is the hyphenated double-barrelled surname. In documents and parish registers it is often shortened to “als”.It is often the case that one name was used alone and in many cases I have found only one use of the alias for an individual in records, but nevertheless it is possible to see a lineal descent connecting all the bearers of the alias.


The first example of the Flexney alias so far found is a baptism at Stanton Harcourt on September 21st 1609 of a Maria, the daughter of William Flexeny alias Hixe, and the final one, in a pleasingly symmetrical manner, is the burial, again at Stanton, of a William Flexney alias Hicks on May 4th 1736. in between these events we can find eight individuals who are named with the alias in one form or another. In most cases the name Flexney comes first, but not always, and there are a few entries where Hicks alone is used and the identification fits a member of the Flexney family. All of these usages are in the Stanton/Standlake/Witney area with the exception of a Richard Hicks alias Flexney who lived in Cassington (between Witney and Oxford) and whose will was proved in 1645. The latter is particularly interesting as it gives a flavour of how loose the usage of the two names was. Richard starts his will as Richard Hicks alias Flexney but the first personal bequest is “to my sonne Edward Flexney alias Hicks” and later on he leaves ten shillings to “my daughter-in-law Eliz: Hicks”. Richard could not sign, but his mark is noted as “Richard Flexneys mark”.


Tracing back my line of the Flexney family, I am fairly confident (despite one or two strong probabilities which cannot be certain) in reaching a John Flexney who would have been born around 1665/70. He first appears in the documents relating to his obtaining a marriage licence for his wedding to Ann Tarry in 1694 at Cogges parish church. His name is given as John Flexney and he is described as a carrier of Curbridge in the parish of Witney. In the register of St Marys, Witney three baptisms are recorded for John son of John Flexyn of Curbridge (1695), Elizabeth daughter of John Flexyn (1699) and Anne, daughter of John Flexyn als. Hicks (1702). This appears to be the same family, and at some time before 1719 it seems that John left the Anglican Communion and joined the Society of Friends, or Quakers. His name first appears in that year as a member of the Monthly Meeting as Jno. Flexny call’d Hix (see illustration above). The Quakers were more straightforward in their speech and mistrusted the use of latin. John appears in the Quaker records again when his son John was married in 1723 and he and his wife Ann both sign as witnesses with the name Flexney. He may however, be the John Hicks who features in Quaker accounts being paid for the hire of a horse and horseshoes. Despite his Quaker connections it seems that John was buried at St Marys in 1726, and Ann followed him in 1730. Their son John only ever seems to have used Flexney as a surname and the alias ended with his father.


Signature of John Flexney on his marriage licence affidavit 1694

Further back from John we cannot go with certainty as there are no relevant baptisms in parishes where Flexneys still remained. However, several parishes registers for this period are lost and by using wills and following the alias it may be possible to link John to a Humphrey Flexney who died in February 1689 (Old style – we would call this February 1690). In his will Humphrey calls himself a husbandman which is a person farming land he held leasehold. He lived in Brighthampton, which although very close to Standlake, is actually in the parish of Bampton. The parish of Bampton was unusual in having three vicars and several small chapels as well as the mother church in Bampton itself. One of these chapels was at Shifford a tiny hamlet south of Brighthampton and the registers prior to 1726 are missing. It seems though that Brighthampton people used this as their parish church (Stanlake church was closer but in a separate parish) and Humphrey is recorded as the Churchwarden there in 1641. However he and his wife Eleanor had their children baptised at Standlake and this is where we see the use of the alias. Their eldest son, Thomas was baptised in 1641 as the son of Humphrey Hix; the second son, John was baptised in 1643 and the surname then was Hix alias Flexney. At the baptism of their later children only the surname Flexney is given. There are no further entries for the family in Standlake, although we know Humphrey and Eleanor had at least one further child, Alice who is named in her father’s will. It is likely that Humphrey and Eleanor, and any of their children who died young were buried at Shifford.


Shifford Chapel in the 19th century. It had been ruinous and rebuilt in the late 18th 

Humphrey’s will gives us a little detail concerning his descendants and he leaves bequests to his daughter, Alice and her daughter, Amy as well as to his four other grandchildren: John and Elizabeth the children of his son John, and John and Humphrey the sons of his son William. I can find no record of any of these baptisms and so assume they were at Shifford as well. Humphrey’s son William died intestate in 1700 and no record of his burial can be found either. I think it is very likely that the John Flexney who married Ann Tarry in 1694 was one of the two grandsons of Humphrey to bear that name, but we shall probably never know which one. Curbridge, where John the carrier was first mentioned is only a little to the north-west of Brighthampton.


Humphrey would have been born around 1615 and it is frustrating that the Stanton Harcourt registers are missing for the periods 1586-1601 and 1612-1654, as I think it is most likely that Humphrey was born there. There were several Flexney families in the village at the time with at least two of them linked with the Hicks alias. One fact we may be able to deduce though is his mother’s name. In 1629 Humphrey Tanner of Brighthampton made his will and after bequests to his daughters Mary and Margaret, their husbands and children, he leaves the residue of his estate to his daughter Joahne (Joan) Flaxen (spelt Flexney in the probate). He also makes bequests to Humphrey, Joan and Margaret Flaxen who, although not specified, are surely the children of Joan. No Flexney husband is named and so is presumably already deceased. One assumes Joan would have passed on the estate to her son at a later date and this would explain how the Flexney family arrived in the parish of Standlake. However there is no clue as yet as to the origin of the Hicks alias.



They shall grow not old..


Frank Flexney c1913 sepia

Francis William (Frank) was the elder son of Frank and Leah Flexney of Bedminster, Bristol, born in 1884 and was a silverer by trade. He joined the Glos. Volunteer Corps as a teenager and shortly afterwards there was an aborted attempt to join the Somerset Light Infantry; he was discharged by purchase after two weeks; possibly a case of parental disapproval. However he enlisted in the South Wales Borderers in September 1904 and was sent almost immediately to India where served for the next six years. After two years in South Africa, he was discharged to the reserve in March 1912. The photograph shows him about this time, probably in early 1914. Recalled at the outbreak of war in August of that year, he rejoined the 1st Battalion SWB and disembarked in France on 13th August. The regiment saw a little action at Mons and during the retreat, but played a full role in the battle of the Aisne in September. His company was entrenched by some quarries on the Mont Falcon spur, near Vendresse, when a surprise German attack in the early morning mist on the 26th caught them off guard. The war diary recounts that several men fought with their bare hands, one using his dining fork. Frank died that day and is commemorated on the memorial to the missing at La Ferte sous Juarre. He is probably one of the unidentified Borderers buried in the Vendresse military cemetery, close to where he fell.


Oliver Flexney copy

Oliver Edward Noyes was the younger son of Frank and Leah Flexney and was nine years younger than his brother Frank, being born in 1893. An upholsterer by training, his family were eager to keep him from the conflict following his brother’s death and in early 1917 he was working at the Bristol Aeroplane Works at Filton, where the famous Bristol Fighter was produced. However he was conscripted in February of that year and joined the 58th Company Machine Gun Corps. Following training he was posted to Flanders and took part in the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) where he received serious injuries whilst the company were assisting the attack on the Zandvoorde ridge. He died of his wounds on November 2nd, and is buried at Outtersteene cemetery close to the site of the Australian Casualty Clearing Station where he died.



John Williams

John Williams, Fiona’s grandfather, was the eldest son of John and Ellen Williams of Anglesey. John senior was a gamekeeper and the family lived in various places in North Wales, John junior being born in Tremerchion, Flintshire on November 9th 1893. August 1914 found John in Lancashire, working as a collier and he enlisted on 7th August just three days after the declaration of war, joining the Royal Regiment of Artillery, his rank being gunner in the Royal Field Artillery. He was posted to Dundalk in Ireland, and spent the next year there, being promoted to bombardier. On transfer to the 10th Divisional Ammunition Column in July 1915 he reverted to gunner, and on October 4th that year was posted to France. On 1st July 1916 John was with the 56th Divisional Ammunition Column attached to the 756th Trench Battery as the Somme offensive began with an assault on the southern side of the Gommecourt salient. He was killed that day and buried not far from where he fell in the military cemetery at Hebuterne.

Before being posted to France John had a romantic relationship with Augusta Padfield of Blaenavon and his letters to her are still extant. On hearing of her pregnancy he managed, after some delays to obtain a few days leave and returned in order to marry her. However on the day before the proposed marriage, Augusta gave birth to their daughter and was too unwell to leave home. John was detained by the police for overstaying leave and returned to the regiment. The letters become far more poignant after this and his final one, dated 21st June 1916 is headed “Goodbye” and “Excuse my writing, time is short”.



These vignettes are to be published in later editions of the Journal of the Society of Genealogists