Industrial Archaeology

Stoke Lane Sept 2011 001 copy

St Michaels Church, Stoke Lane before 19th century rebuilding

When researching family history, one expects to come across generation after generation of labourers or agricultural labourers and, occupational records being sparse before the beginning of civil registration (1837) and the census of 1841, that is usually what you accept as the default. However I have been lucky with many of my families in that both rural and urban lines have often revealed crafts and trades of a variety of types. So far I have come across carpenters, plumbers and glaziers, masons, retailers, bakers, blanket weavers, railwaymen, musicians and many others. The distaff side, as well as the usual servants, laundresses and dressmakers has included a 19th century “shop huckstress” and a 17th century midwife. The rural lines have produced a number of labourers but also many husbandmen and yeomen (both of which we would now call farmers) as well as a wool comber, flax dresser, miller and a lime-burner. The most numerous of all the tradespeople however, occuring almost somewhere in every line are shoemakers, in one form or another: cordwainers (an ancient term denoting one who not only made shoes but worked in leather goods generally), boot maker, slipper maker and shoemaker itself. Of these, my starting point in this article is William Noyes (1815-1894), my ggg grandfather.

3 Temple Gate, Bath Parade

William Noyes’ shop and house on Temple Parade (probably the second from the left of the row of cottages; this was formerly Redcliffe Almshouses)

William’s daughter, Maria married John Flexney in Bristol in 1861 and died, tragically young in 1880, and we have seen (here) how they possibly met, John working as a railway porter at Temple Meads Station, which faced William Noyes’ home and shop on Temple Way. William had been working as a self-employed boot maker in Bristol since the 1830s (although the 1861 census also records him as employing three men) and he had married Eliza Pritchard at Temple Church in 1838. In their early years the family lived at several addresses in the Temple or neighbouring Redcliffe areas, but by 1861 they had settled at Bath Parade in Temple Way. Of William and Eliza’s eight children, only three survived into adulthood; Henry, a railwayman (1840-1904), Maria (1841-1880) and Clara (1857-1897) who was left the whole of William’s estate of £595 when he died; William’s wife Eliza had passed away three years before, in 1891.

I have been unable to take Eliza’s line back very far; she was the daughter of Joseph Pritchard (1783-1851) and his wife Catherine (nee Kill 1782-1859), who lived in Winchester where Joseph worked as a gardener. More research at Hampshire Record Office is required. William however proved a little easier to research as his roots lay in Somerset. When first tackling his origins I was given two clues; living with him in the 1841 census were another William Noyes and a Sarah Noyes. Of course, no relationships are given in that record (and by 1851 both had died), but their ages suggest that that could be William junior’s parents. In later censuses William gives his place of birth variously as Murtrey, Murtry near Frome, and Medtree as well as the unhelpful “Somerset” and “Bristol”. This took a little time to track down, although the “near Frome” gave the greatest clue, as in 1841 William senior gave his occupation as “miller”. A search of old maps finally showed the solution as clearly marked on the 1881 OS map is Murtry Flour Mill, just to the north-west of Frome and lying in the parish of Buckland Dinham.

Murtry Mill 1888 OS

Murtry Flour Mill on an 1881 OS map

The parish register of Buckland did not have William’s baptism however and no others for any children of William and Sarah. After a search for other Noyes baptisms in this area of Somerset, I finally found the baptism of William Noyes, son of William and Sarah at St Michaels, Stoke Lane (also known as Stoke St Michael) on April 14, 1816, with the parents’ abode given as Buckland Dinham. I found a further clutch of baptisms for William’s siblings as well as the marriage of his parents, William Noyes and Sarah Clavey on October 7th, 1805. At the marriage both parties are described as “of this parish” although William is further designated as a “sojurner”, meaning he was not born in the parish but, at the time, lived and worked there. Before we turn to Sarah’s family, I managed to trace William’s parentage by returning to the register at Buckland Dinham. He was baptised there in 1784, the son of yet another William Noyes and his wife Elizabeth. Beyond that there is not a great deal more – William and Elizabeth Sears married at St Johns, Frome in March 1780, but I cannot trace either of them any further back as yet. It could well be that this first William was also the miller of Murtry Mill, but there is no evidence so far. His other son, named John may be the John Noyes who is listed in nearby Mells as a miller in an 1844 Directory, but at least we can be sure that the William baptised in 1784 worked at Murtry from at least 1813 until 1820, when the family appears to have moved to Stoke Lane. The mill itself is no longer standing; it was recorded as “disused” in 1930 and demolished in the 1950s. Only a few stones now remain alongside the old mill race.

Returning to Sarah Clavey, there is much more information available on her family, who had been settled in Stoke Lane for at least 200 years. The earliest reference so far is to a Richard Clavey who was granted a licence to sell ale there in 1615, and it may be that the numerous Clavey family of the parish all descend from him. Sarah’s branch is well documented back to the early 18th century, although problems with the parish registers which are disordered and damaged, and the near-total lack of wills for Somerset make anything further more complicated. The collection of wills for Somerset, proved at the bishops’ and archdeacons’ courts (as well as those for Devon) were destroyed in the bombing of Exeter during the Second World War. Only a few proved at Canterbury, even fewer copies preserved in local archives, and the Estate Duty Office copies of 1812-57 survive. Luckily three of these survivors exist for Sarah’s ancestors. One of them is the will of Sarah’s father, Abraham Clavey (c1742-1829) which adds valuable information about the family other than the bare records of the parish register. Abraham describes himself as a yeoman and the will, dated October 6th 1828 provides bequests to his three surviving children, all daughters, Mary, Elizabeth and Sarah as well as Sarah’s eldest son, Joseph. As well as his household goods and chattels, which were left to Elizabeth, Abraham’s estate consisted of two properties; one called Rawlings which was leasehold and included a cottage and gardens, was also left to Elizabeth. The other called Fussells “where I now reside”, was freehold (although with a mortgage of £8 per year with six years to run) and was left to Sarah, and following Sarah’s death to Joseph. After paying off the mortgage, Sarah had to pay her sisters one shilling per week for the remainder of their lives. Fussells consisted of a house, gardens and pasture land running to about ten acres. Both properties lay on Withy Brook Lane which runs westwards from Stoke Lane Village towards Oakhill.

Abraham had married Martha Gullick at St Michaels church in 1764 and both were seemingly from the village. Unfortunately the baptisms are missing from the parish register for the period 1741-8 and (from the age given at their burials) both their births would have occured in that period; Abraham’s around 1742 and Martha’s three years later. They had nine children, but as previously mentioned, only three daughters survived them (Martha died in 1813). Mary the eldest died in 1835 and Elizabeth, who remained single like her elder sister in 1866, leaving her estate to her nephew, Joseph Noyes; Joseph was a cordwainer like his younger brother William, but he spent the whole of his life in Stoke Lane.

We are lucky in being sure of Abraham’s parentage as his father’s will exists too (as an abstract ) in the Estate Duty copies. It records that he leaves 2/6d per week to his daughter Mary Ann charged against real estate left to his son Abraham; Abraham also received a leasehold wooded area called Rich’s and a workshop erected on the site as well as the residue of the estate. Most of the Claveys of Stoke Lane lived to good ages, if they survived childhood, but Abraham’s father, William holds the record, dying in 1811 at the age of 97. In many ways he is the most interesting member of the family as we possess more information about him than any others. Once again we have to rely on the record of his burial to establish the year of his birth (c 1714) so his parentage is uncertain, the registers again being in extremely poor condition at this time. He is probably the son of another William, but anything further is plain conjecture. We do know however that he married Mary Fussell of Stoke Lane (her family is probably the source of the name of Abraham’s house) at Great Elm on August 19th 1739; William is described as “of Mells”. Both Mells and Great Elm lie slightly to the north-west of Frome (Great Elm is adjacent to Buckland Dinham) and there is no obvious reason why this parish was chosen for the marriage. What might be a factor in the location and William’s residence at the time, lies in his occupation. We are fortunate in having a document that describes him as an “edge tool maker” of Stoke Lane. Now the making of edge tools was an important and growing industry in the area. The leading lights were a family named Fussell; whether or not they had any connection to Mary we cannot be sure, but it may be that William worked with or for one of the family who, although originating in Stoke Lane, built up their business in the Mells/Great Elm area. Their business is usually dated to 1744 when James Fussell obtained a lease from the Horner family of Mells (descendants of “Little Jack Horner” who pulled out the “plum” of Mells manor at the dissolution of the monastries), but it may be that they were working in the area beforehand utilising the swift streams that ran down to the river Frome. The Fussell business later grew into a large, world-wide exporting empire by the early 19th century, but failed to capitalise on technological change and had closed by 1900.

Whatever the connection, we can see evidence of William’s business in an estate map of 1760 which clearly shows a wood named “Clavy’s Wood” with a mill and waterwheel and the adjoining “Riches Wood”. Also shown to the east of the mill is another building which may be the workshop referred to in William’s will. To the bottom right corner of the map may be made out a cottage in the field named “Batch Mead”. This was the Clavey’s home, being recorded as both Riches and Claveys at different periods. It had disappeared by 1841.

Stoke Lane 1760 detail copy

1760 Estate map showing Riches Wood, Clavy’s Wood with mill and workshop, and William Clavey’s house in Batch Mead

In a wooded valley with a stream running through it, this is surely the site of William’s mill. Edge tool making required a ready supply of power, and water mills were the principal source in the early 18th century as for generations before. There was a steady and growing need for edge tools such as spades, scythes and sickles in the agriculture of England which was booming with the Agricultural Revolution, which had started at the beginning of the century, taking hold. We have no record of how successful a business William’s was, or how long it continued. A lease of 1754 records the grant of land to William by the Horner family, and a survey of 1783 mentions the exitence of his edge tool mill; but it is significant that none of his sons seems to have continued it. We can however see an amazing example of the type of mill and workshop that he operated. The Finch Foundry, now owned by the National Trust is the last remaining water-powered forge in England and has regular displays of the process of producing tools of the sort that William made. It is near Okehampton in Devon. I visited it a few years ago and experienced a real thrill seeing how one of my distant ancestors toiled all those years ago.

Finch Foundry

Finch Foundry

An earlier visit had been made to Stoke Lane and I took the opportunity to explore the woods that William leased to see if any trace remained. To my surprise there were several signs there of what had existed before. A few small walls which might be the site of the mill and certainly a mill race and holding pond. With so few direct links with my distant forebears, it remains one of the highlights of my ancestral trail.

Stoke Lane Sept 2011 Mill wall

In Clavey’s Wood showing wall of mill

Whilst it is difficult to identify William’s parentage, we know that of Mary as her father’s will survives in the Somerset archives. He was Thomas Fussell, a yeoman of Stoke Lane who died in 1748. He left to his wife Mary (nee Shepard) two cottages and ten acres on Withy Brook, which are surely the ones mentioned in Abraham Clavey’s will of 1828 as one of those was named “Fussells”. Thomas further stipulates that following Mary’s death all his estate is to pass to his son-in-law, William Clavey whom he named as his executor. William had to pay an annuity to his sister-in-law, confusingly called Mary Ann Fussell (she had married a man also named Fussell), of £5.10s a year, and in addition pay of a debt incurred by Mary Ann’s husband of £27. Perhaps though, William was left enough to enable him to invest in his own edge tool business.

Stoke Lane Sept 2011 mill leat

Clavey’s mill showing the mill leat and sluice gate


A Voice from the Past


Will John Godfrey 1616 original mark

The mark of John Godfrey from his will of 1616

In a previous article (here) I made the arguement that my ancestor, William Godfrey alias Smith was the son of the John Godfrey of Hailey who died in 1782. That remains to be proved, but I decided to chart the line of the Godfrey family, with the help of a fellow researcher whose forebear had married into the Godfrey family in the late seventeenth century. The descent, as it appears most likely is as follows:

William Godfrey alias Smith (1757-1821)
John Godfrey (1707-1782) (here)
Daniel Godfrey (1665-1737) (here)
John Godfrey (1634-1705) (here)
John Godfrey (1596-1670) (here)
John Godfrey died 1616 (here)

The wills for all of these (except William) survive and help to prove the connections and relationships, as well as their occupations (to see transcriptions of them, click on the “here” after each one). All of them, with the exception of the two earliest Johns, describe themselves as husbandmen or yeomen; the second John was a cooper and the first a sivier, that is one who made sieves. My fellow researcher brought to my attention a mention in the Survey of London (available in British History Online) regarding the church of All Hallows Barking (otherwise All Hallows by the Tower); this referred to a letter held in the parish chest which was from a John Godfrey of Crawley in Oxfordshire to his sister Elizabeth Goddard who lived in Tower Street and dated 1615 ( the note is in section 3). My curiosity engaged, I visited the London Metropolitan Archive and photographed the letter. It is shown below together with my transcription.

It is impossible to say if this is the same John Godfrey as the one who died in 1616, but there appear to be no others of this name in the parish, and some of the names in the letter, such as Amy and Joan were used by him for his own children. In any case the letter is an interesting social history item and although, no doubt, couched in formulaic terms, shows the close relationship between John and his sister as well as the deep religious faith that obviously underpinned life in that period.

Godfrey letter full

London Metropolitan Archive ref P69/ALH1/G/04/001 letter no55

nb. Permission to use this image has been allowed by the London Metropolitan Archive on the understanding that copyright is held (until 2035) by the writer and his direct lineal descendant. If anyone should be able to prove to have the senior line of descent, I shall be pleased to acknowledge or withdraw the illustration as required. I would also be very pleased to make contact with another possible distant cousin!

Transcription of the letter of John Godfrey 1615

Jesus Christ

Most loving and kinde sister Elizabeth I and my weife
wth the rest of us comend us right harttely unto you
geving you harty thankes for yor great & extraordinary
Tokens to us sent not knowing how to requite it not any
other wayes but wth thankfull hartes, and and evrmore
dayly prayers to god for yor good and happy beeing
in this triblesome worlde [to blese yo wth] and evrlasting ioyes in the
world to come Amen. Theise are to let you
understand that I receivd yor letter and tokens
for our selves and yor sister Joane geving you harty
thanks for yor often kindnesses And I have here
sent you for a smale Token a Cake for you and yor
frend to tast of this Alhallen day wch is now at this
date well near come praying to except of it as though
it were a greter Token –

And I thanke god be it spoken at this tyme
wth yor gret chardges and wth my owne laboure
that god hath blessed mee wth I can now bid you
welcome or any frend I have to my owne house
wch is in Witny parish about half a myle where
I dwelt before at a vilage cauled Crawly
This sertyfying you of all or good healthes: hoping also
of yors I end wth A Thousand comendacons comitting
you unto the lords blessed proteccon Crawly the
xxix of October And. 1615
yor loving Brother &
Sister Joh Godfre &
Ame his wiefe

The Carier ys paide


To his very loving sister
Elizabeth Goddard at
the lower end of Tower
street against Barking
Church theise bee
delivred wth speed
The carrier is paide


There are many interesting points to be found in the letter. First of all the speed with which John expected it to be delivered; he has noted on the cover that it is to be “delivered wth speed” (a 17th century first class post no doubt) but All Hallows day, when he was expecting Elizabeth to “tast of” the cake he sent, was on November 1st, so just three days after the letter was written.

If this is John Godfrey the sivier, it is interesting that he has managed to acquire his own house, presumably having previously only rented a property. He declares that it has been obtained with his “owne laboure”, although possibly also by Elizabeth’s “gret chardges” – it is not clear what this means, but I feel it most likely that the charges referred to were urgings by his sister that he take this step. Sadly, assuming the two John Godfreys to be one and the same, the following year was to see the death of both John and his wife, Amy. John’s will, dated August 29th 1616 leaves £3 and a sheep each to his five daughters, Margaret, Marjorie, Joan, Alice and Amy with the remainder of his estate going to his son, John. Probate was granted on September 28th, so John must have died within a few weeks of drawing up his will. There is no mention made of wife Amy in the will, so it must be presumed she died earlier in the year, or in late 1615. Unfortunately the parish register of Witney is missing burials for this period, so we can’t be sure of the date of her death.

I think the letter is not in John’s own handwriting, but dictated. The use on the cover (in the same hand) of “to his very loving sister..” and the subscription of “yor loving brother..” sound second-hand rather than immediate. Furthermore, if we are to accept that the John of the letter and the John of the 1616 will are the same man, then we know from the latter that the testator made a mark rather than writing a signature. Indeed, if the two documents are compared, there are enough similarities to assume they were written by the same person, and the will is most definitely dictated. Although both contain inconsistancies of spelling and letter formation, there are instancies where the writing is too identical to be ignored. Below I have shown the name John Godfrey from the will (referring to the testator’s son) and the subscription of the letter. The letter formation of the abbreviated “John” and the shape of the capital G are virtually identical. I suspect that both documents, written within a year of one another, were the work of a local scrivener or clergyman, or possibly a literate friend.

Will John Godfrey 1616 original name
Godfrey letter name

To my mind there is enough circumstantial evidence to treat the maker of the will and the writer of the letter as being the same man. If so, it is extrememly satisfying for a family historian to hear the voice of one of his ancestors speak from the long distant past. I have discovered another letter from a certain ancestor, dated 1619, but, although autographed, it remains a fairly standardised plea for advancement. This letter of John Godfrey is a much more personal and, to my mind, a more interesting document.

One final item of interest is the cake which John has sent to Elizabeth. This was, no doubt, an All Hallows or Soul cake, which played a prominent part in the festival of both the day itself and the Eve on October 31st. Most surviving records make it sound to modern ears more like a biscuit or cookie (a recipe is shown below) and it played a part in the medieval and early modern version of “trick or treat” which we associate with Halloween. Children and poorer members of the community would go from door to door “souling”, offering to pray for the souls of the household’s departed, and in return were given a soul cake; the cakes were usually decorated with a cross on top (like hot-cross buns) which were supposed to stand for either the cross of Christ which would redeem the souls in Purgatory, or alternatively bones representing the dead.

All Hallows cake recipe (makes 12)

375g self raising flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp mixed spice
185g butter
155g caster sugar
90g currants
90g sultanas
1 egg
125ml milk

Mix the dry ingredients into a bowl and rub in the butter
Add the fruit and spices and mix; make a well in the centre and add the egg and milk
Mix well together and using a spoon, arrange on a greased baking tray, making a cross on the top
Bake in preheated oven (220C/Gas 7) for 10-15 minutes until golden

Next Halloween I shall make some All Hallows cakes and remember my (probable) ancestors, John and Amy Godfey of Crawley, and perhaps offer up an (atheist’s) prayer for their souls.




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)



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 (for a transcription see here). 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 (for transcription see here).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 are now  available on the Oxfordshire FHS site of transcribed wills (here) along with those of the ancestors of John Godfrey.

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)